On Wednesday, medical marijuana patients and advocates held an emotional press conference slamming Gov. Mark Dayton for bowing to law enforcement and stalling on a medical marijuana bill currently being considered in the Minnesota legislature.
Those present, several of them parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy who could benefit from medical marijuana, said the governor told them they should risk arrest and obtain their medicine from the illicit market.
"He told me, 'You can buy it on the street. It's decriminalized in Minnesota. There's a good distribution system here already,'" Jessica Hauser, 36, of Woodbury, told The Associated Press in an interview.
She said he also told her another option would be to buy it another state where medical marijuana was legal and bring it back to Minnesota.
"I told the governor that was unacceptable," said Hauser, who has another son who is 5. "I shouldn't have to become a criminal to help my son. I could lose both my children."
Today, the City Council of Chicago voted 43-3 to amend the city’s code to direct police officers to cite, rather than arrest, individuals in possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana. Under the proposal, which has the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, police could still arrest those who cannot produce identification or present a threat to public safety. Those cited would face fines of $200 to $500 dollars and up to 10 hours of community service; however, there would be no risk of jail time.
Passage of the measure means that adults in possession of small amounts of marijuana will no longer be arrested or saddled with criminal records that can make it harder to obtain employment, housing, and student loans. The ordinance will also allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes, like the city’s soaring murder rate, while conserving limited police resources. Violent crime has become a serious concern in Chicago, with homicides up 38% over the last year.
Chicago now joins over 90 other localities in Illinois and 15 other states across the nation in removing criminal penalties for low-level marijuana possession. Since enacting laws replacing arrest and jail with fines for such violations, there has been no appreciable increase in marijuana use in those areas, either among adults or young people. The move follows a recent trend in marijuana reforms, including a similar penalty reform in Rhode Island and medical marijuana legislation in Connecticut this May and June. Legislative chambers in New York, New Hampshire, and New Jersey also approved marijuana policy reforms in recent weeks. This trend reflects growing public consensus that harsh marijuana laws are ineffective, and scarce law enforcement resources should not be used to arrest adults for using a substance safer than alcohol.
If only President Obama's former colleagues, like his good friend the Mayor of Chicago, could convince him that people are ready for real marijuana policy change, and that we need it more than ever.
Department of Justice Takes Steps to Subsidize California Gangs; Threatens to Shut Down Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
In a press conference today, all four U.S. Attorneys in California announced that the administration will no longer ignore dispensaries and will actively prosecute many commercial operations. The attorneys said they will concentrate on criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture against the landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation centers, and threaten action against certain commercial organizations. Multiple businesses throughout the state have been given 45 days to close down. To support the increased efforts to eliminate the medical marijuana industry, they claim that it has been overtaken by criminal organizations and harms communities, yet do not offer justification of these claims at the present time. In the absence of regulated and licensed dispensaries, however, many patients will likely be forced to obtain medical marijuana from street dealers and gangs, which will doubtless create additional law enforcement and public safety problems for California.
Despite campaign promises not to spend limited law enforcement resources interfering with state medical marijuana laws and a 2009 Department of Justice policy directive against targeting individuals acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, the U.S. Attorneys signaled that they now intend to prosecute individuals who provide that medicine to patients under safe, regulated conditions.
"How can the Obama administration say that it's fine for sick people to use this proven medicine, and yet tell them they can’t have any legal place to get it?” asked Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Medical marijuana isn't going away. Over 70 percent of Americans support making medical marijuana legal, and 16 states allow it.”
“The end result of the federal government's policy is to ensure that medical marijuana is sold illegally in most parts of the country, as well as to create needless suffering for patients who can't find a place to buy medical marijuana."
Since 2009, eight states have enacted or implemented laws that set high standards and strict regulations on medical marijuana dispensing, moving away from previous “gray market” models that lacked licensing or regulations. During the previous administration, targeting providers in California did not prevent marijuana profiteers from operating. Instead, a federal policy of interference with state medical marijuana laws pushes states towards programs with confusing legal gray areas and little to no control over the operation of providers.
We will be continuing to post updates on this issue and the response from the medical marijuana industry and patients.
For a full text of the Department of Justice press release, go here.