The DEA Keeps Busting Medicinal Marijuana Co-Ops, but Has Filed No Charges.

Cocaine, much of it bound for the United States, retains its position as
Colombia's largest cash crop. Illegal drugs still pour into this country
from Mexico. Heroin is back. Ecstasy is still here. And pushers still
provide teen-agers with marijuana to escape the rigors of school.

The U.S. "war" on drugs - which continues to emphasize interdiction, arrest
and prosecution rather than education, treatment and rehabilitation - has
enough frontiers to keep the Drug Enforcement Agency busy for, well,
forever. So long as there is enough demand and enough illegal profit to be
made, there will be enough bad guys ready to make it.

So what in the world were DEA agents doing a couple of weeks ago knocking
down doors at dawn, brandishing guns and screaming at terminally ill
cancer, AIDS and polio patients to get out of bed.

Enforcing the drug law, says the DEA.

Harassing law-abiding, peaceable citizens, say government and
law-enforcement officials in California where the raid took place.

The DEA drug bust took place on Sept. 5 at a medical marijuana co-op in the
hills outside Santa Cruz. People at the co-op help to grow and harvest
marijuana for medicinal use only. It eases their considerable pain. The
marijuana is distributed to them free. This has been legal in California
since 1996 when voters approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Since then, similar laws have been passed in Alaska, Arizona, Colorado,
Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. But federal law forbids
marijuana possession for any purpose, so the ever-vigilant DEA has been
raiding medical marijuana farms around California, apparently just to let
local officials know it's around.

It's certainly not to get arrests. In not one case, including the most
recent raid, has any charge been placed against anyone for growing or
possessing or using marijuana at the farms. That's because federal
prosecutors don't think they can get a conviction from any jury on these busts.

And that's because there are no bad guys.

If average citizens think it makes sense to let terminally ill people use
marijuana to ease their suffering and their state's law allows it, what
purpose is served by armed federal agents kicking in doors, chopping up
marijuana plants and scaring sick people from their beds when the DEA has
no intention of filing charges. That is not law enforcement: That is a
waste of time, energy and money that could be used to go after drug
pushers. It is, in fact, an abuse of power.

DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson defends his raid policy and says
California's law is too vague insofar as how much marijuana you can grow,
or have or for what disease you can use it.

That is pure nonsense. City and county law enforcement officials in Santa
Cruz, who enforce state law, are upset by the heavy-handed DEA raids.
Tuesday, the Santa Cruz City Council let the co-op hand out marijuana to
its patients on the steps of City Hall as local police looked on.

Top state officials call the raids callous treatment of sick, law-abiding
people who represent a threat to no one. They're right. The raids are also
an insult to California voters by a Republican administration in Washington
that is supposed to value the principle of state's rights. Those rights
have traditionally included deciding on health care for a state's citizens.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that state laws allowing medicinal
marijuana can't be used as a defense against charges of violating federal
drug laws. But that doesn't mean the federal law makes sense, or that
states should not be allowed to control medical practices within their borders.

Nor does it excuse abusive police practices, such as repeatedly invading
private domains without any intention of filing criminal charges. If a law
can't be enforced with criminal charges and convictions, it is useless.

This is a dumb, wasteful, misguided, punitive, brutal, arrogant policy and
the DEA ought to stop it immediately. Go catch some real drug pushers and
let these sick people have some respite.

Meanwhile, Congress needs to rewrite federal drug laws to follow the lead
of the enlightened citizens of California and the other states that allow
the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. This is one front in the drug
war that could and should be closed.

Pubdate: Fri, 20 Sep 2002
Source: Times Herald-Record (NY)
Copyright: 2002 Times Herald-Record