DEA Dirty Tricks Hit Cannabis Clubs
Revolutionary Worker #943, February 8, 1998
On January 9, the U.S. Justice Department moved to shut down six centers in northern California that supply marijuana to cancer and AIDS patients and to others who use it as medicine for a variety of illnesses. In November 1996, a medical marijuana initiative was passed in California which was supposed to legalize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. This new attack by federal authorities is the most recent move in a two-sided battle that is underway over the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 (Proposition 215).
In a press conference, U.S. Attorney Michael Yamaguchi announced that federal complaints were being issued against six medical marijuana distribution sites: the Cannabis Cultivators Club and the Flower Therapy Medical Marijuana Club in San Francisco, the Oakland Cannabis Buyer's Cooperative, the Santa Cruz Cannabis Buyer's Club, the Ukiah Buyer's Club and the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana. Flanked by representatives of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Justice Department, Yamaguchi made clear that it did not make any difference to the government that the clubs supply thousands of sick and dying patients with medical marijuana which they need to ease their symptoms and pain. Yamaguchi said the purpose was to "send a clear message regarding marijuana cultivation and distribution." This position is even more extreme than that of California Attorney General Dan Lundgren who has led the state assault on the use of medical marijuana, including vicious raids on the clubs.
Prior to the federal actions, the DEA conducted an "investigation" of the Buyers' Clubs. As part of their investigation the DEA established phony doctor's offices so that when the buyer's clubs checked the notes brought in by the agents posing as patients their stories would check out.
Dennis Peron of the Cannabis Cultivators Club and one of the authors of Proposition 215 told the RW, "They slipped five DEA agents into our club under the ruse of being really sick. They established five doctor's offices, so when we called the doctor's office on the other end there was a Narc telling us he's a doctor... They entrapped us. We gave them picture ID cards of the Cannabis Buyer's Club and they were permitted to buy essentially $40 worth of marijuana. Then, after we were served these injunctions, the narcs were outside, along with the DEA and the FBI, about 20 of them, threatening and intimidating the customers down the block, taking pictures of us. Of course, we went back and hassled them and took pictures of them."
The Buyers' Clubs who were named in the federal action had to respond in federal court by January 29. And a court hearing has been set for February 20 to determine if the clubs are to be shut down. The marijuana clubs plan to fight the suit in the courtroom but continue to serve their patients no matter what the courts decide. Peron told the RW, "We're going to defy their injunctions much like Martin Luther King did. We're going to passive-nonviolently resist. We intend to continue to help our sick and dying friends. We will not abandon them. Until the federal government puts marijuana in Walgreen's we're going to continue what we are doing here, even if we have to do it in an underground capacity. We will resist."
"Reefer Madness" by the Police
The federal suit is part of an all-around attack on medical marijuana in California involving California Attorney General Dan Lundgren, local police and the DEA. This has created a Catch-22 situation where patients are supposedly allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes but attempts to attain it are designated illegal. Proposition 215 called for the state to develop a method for distribution of medical marijuana, but so far the only action by California has been threats and arrests.
In November 1997, a state appeals court overturned a decision by a lower court that allowed cannabis clubs to supply medical marijuana to patients under Proposition 215. Immediately after the decision, Attorney General Lundgren ordered the clubs to close by December 12 and announced that he would raid and shut down clubs that remain open after that date. Due to the federal government action against the clubs and because of an appeal to the Supreme Court, Lundgren did not carry out his threat when the deadline came.
Meanwhile patients continue to be harassed for medical marijuana. On September 22, Tom Evans, a 36-year-old AIDS patient who volunteers at the Flower Therapy Club, was arrested by San Francisco police who also raided his home. "I think the SFPD has better things to do than chase AIDS patients who are growing medical marijuana," a friend of Evans told the San Francisco Chronicle after the raid. A week before the raid on Evans' house, Donald Crisp, an eye patient who uses marijuana to relieve pressure in his eye, had seven marijuana plants--his personal medicine--confiscated by SF police. The police handcuffed Crisp and ignored his pleas to phone his doctor who approves of his cannabis use. Californians for Compassionate Use, the organization that wrote Proposition 215, reports that they have received numerous calls from AIDS patients who have experienced similar harassment. To protest these raids the legal advocate for Californians for Compassionate Use marched to the office of SF Police Chief Fred Lau, placed a marijuana plant on his desk, and demanded to be arrested. In front of TV cameras the legal advocate and the plant were evicted from the chief's office. The legal advocate said, "This shows that the true agenda of the police is to violate the patients in the sanctity of their homes and rob them of their medicine."
Two medical marijuana clubs have decided to close down because of the constant harassment from the authorities. Cannabis Helping Alleviate Medical Problems (CHAMP), which provided medical marijuana for 500 members, shut down on January 5. CHAMP executive director Victor Hernandez told the San Francisco Chronicle that the staff of the club were upset about a two-week period of surveillance by unidentified plainclothes police who videotaped outside the club and who trailed staff members.
There has been opposition to these heavy-handed police moves, including from significant forces in the medical establishment. On December 9, the American Medical Association's House of Delegates issued a report on medical marijuana recommending that "discussion of [treatment] alternatives between physicians and patients should not subject either party to criminal sanctions." The report by the AMA also recommends that the government expedite research on medicinal marijuana and recognized the existence of scientific data showing marijuana's medical value.
The August 7, 1997 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine featured an article entitled "<|>`Reefer Madness'--The Federal Response to California's Medical Marijuana Law." The editor-in-chief of the Journal stated that prohibiting physicians from recommending marijuana to help suffering patients is "misguided, heavy-handed, and inhumane."
The DEA vs. Murphy Brown
A November episode of the TV comedy Murphy Brown highlighted the issue of medical marijuana. In the episode Murphy is suffering from nausea caused by chemotherapy treatments for her breast cancer. She has tried all the traditional remedies without success. To help, Murphy's straight-laced and conservative co-anchor, Jim Dial, goes to a park to score some weed. At first Murphy is hesitant to smoke the pot but when she does it helps relieve her suffering.
In response to this episode the Chief of the DEA accused the television character of sending a dangerous message. DEA administrator Thomas Constantine said in a statement that CBS and the show's creators were "doing a great disservice" by "trivializing drug abuse" and "pandering to the libertarian supporters of an open society and to the myths of legalization." Constantine also threatened the show's producers, saying that the DEA was going to investigate whether any laws were broken in airing the episode.
In response to the DEA's threats against CBS and Murphy Brown, medical marijuana advocate and author Peter McWilliams placed a two-page ad in the December 1 issue of the Daily Variety. In the ad McWilliams, an AIDS and cancer patient, compared the DEA's response to the Murphy Brown episode to the anti-communist witchhunts of the McCarthy era. He urged Hollywood to "fire back with your creativity. Prove again that art conquers intolerance; that beauty can tame the beast. The drug war is a beast that's out of control. The government spends $50 billion a year waging a cruel war on its own citizens, mostly minorities. Every 48 second in the United States a life is ruined by a marijuana arrest--2.9 million since Clinton, a pot-smoker, took office."
According to McWilliams, on December 18 at 6:30 a.m. DEA agents pounded on his door shouting, "Police! Open up!" He was taken outside in his bathrobe handcuffed while police ran through his house with guns drawn. The DEA agents confiscated McWilliams' computer which had on it a manuscript for a book McWilliams is writing, A Question of Compassion: An AIDS-Cancer Patient Explores Medical Marijuana. Also on the computer were articles that McWilliams had been working on for Medical Marijuana Magazine which he publishes online. The agents refused to produce the search warrant for McWilliams and said that the reasons for the search were "under seal." McWilliams was not arrested.
"They Can't Let Go"
The cruel and stubborn policies of the government point once again to the madness they call the "war on drugs" and the brutal priorities of the criminal justice system. The Clinton administration has tried to defend its policies by claiming concern about teenage pot-smokers, medical standards for testing and so on. But what federal authorities are really concerned with is that if marijuana is legalized for medical use it will undercut their ability to continue their massive punishing program of the "war on drugs."
Dennis Peron told the RW, "At first they didn't want to harass the AIDS patients and cancer patients for using marijuana but now they have to, otherwise they have to let it go and if they let it go, the war on drugs is over. It's always been a war on marijuana, everybody knows that...
"What keeps me going is the memory of Jonathan West, my lover who died of AIDS, and all the young people who have died of AIDS. Marijuana helped them and I just can't abandon them. When Jonathan died I didn't know why I wanted to go on living. Now I know why I want to live. What's getting lost here is the patients who are sick and dying, that will not be able to get marijuana. In some cases they could die. In some cases they'll go out in the street and get hurt... They're trying to make these fine points of law or technicalities but what they are forgetting about is AIDS patients and cancer patients who are sick and dying."
For more on medical marijuana see the three-part series, "Rx Blunt: The Fight for Medical Marijuana" available in "Nature, Science and Society" section of RW Online at http://rwor.org.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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