Editorial: DEA should cease medical marijuana raids

During the presidential campaign President Obama was asked several times what his attitude would be toward federal Drug Enforcement Agency raids on medical marijuana patients and medicine providers. Many believe these raids are calculated to undermine the laws of the 13 states that allow patients with a physician’s recommendation to use marijuana medicinally.

On every occasion, Obama said he would stop the federal raids.

Thus he told the Mail Tribune in Oregon last March that “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.”

Last May an Obama spokesman, speaking of state medical marijuana laws, told the San Francisco Chronicle that “Obama supports the rights of states and local governments to make this choice.”

It is true that although 13 states have such laws, federal law, counter to known scientific evidence, maintains an absolute prohibition on the possession or use of any amount of marijuana, even for life-saving medicinal uses.

Under the law, then, the federal government could target any of the millions of Americans who use marijuana for any purpose.

Traditionally, the feds had confined their activities to large-scale traffickers and growers of 1,000 plants or more. In recent years, however, they have targeted dispensaries and a few patients. It is those raids that Obama promised to end.

The day after President Obama was inaugurated, however, the DEA raided two dispensaries in the Lake Tahoe area in California, as well as a couple’s home in Colorado. Then on Feb. 3, the day Attorney General Eric Holder took office, the DEA raided four dispensaries in the Los Angeles area. No one was arrested, but $10,000 in cash and 224 kilograms of marijuana and marijuana-infused products were seized.

The DEA is still under the control of acting administrator Michele Leonhart, a Bush appointee. It appears as if these warriors want to persecute a few more patients before they are turned out of office — or perhaps establish precedents that will prevent or delay President Obama from fulfilling his promise.

We can understand some delay in naming new top officials at the DEA and in fact would urge President Obama to take the time to find qualified and sensible people who understand and respect science. In the meantime, however, given that the DEA is part of the Justice Department, Attorney General Holder has full authority to order a stop to such raids and to fire those who ordered them. He should do so immediately.