The Obama administration has promised not to interfere with state and local regulation of legal marijuana. Now officials in the Bay Area are asking the president to make good on his word.
In early November the Alameda County supervisors adopted a resolution that asks federal law enforcement to stop harassing lawful dispensaries in the county. The resolution recognizes the benefits of pot and encourages Obama to begin a discussion about ending prohibition.
The resolution was submitted by Supervisor Keith Carson, whose district includes portions of Oakland and its north suburbs.
California became the first state in the nation to legalize any kind of cannabis consumption when voters enacted medical marijuana in 1996. Since then, 19 other states have adopted MMJ, while two of them, Colorado and Washington, have also legalized recreational weed.
Even so, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. That has led to an impasse and a complex three-way relationship between the feds, state officials and local governments.
In some cases, states trying to enforce their legal pot regimes are at loggerheads with federal officials determined to shut those regimes down. Sometimes different state officials play different roles, with one governor implementing a program while another sabotages it out of concern the feds will interfere.
And municipalities often become involved. Sometimes they team up with the federal government to shut down dispensaries and send their operators to jail. And sometimes, as with Alameda County, they team up with dispensaries and fight the feds.
If the Obama administration is true to its word, they may not have to fight much longer. In a memo released in late August, the Department of Justice announced it would no longer interfere with legal weed as long as state and local governments enforce regulations that meet certain federal criteria – such as keeping kids away from pot.
That promise hasn’t made life much easier for Alameda County, its weed businesses or its patients, though. A number of major persecutions were begun before the announcement was made, and the woman behind them, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California, has shown no intention of backing off.
The most notorious of those cases was filed against Harborside Health Center of Oakland, billed as the world’s biggest pot shop. Owner Steve DeAngelo, a prominent cannabis activist and major player in the industry, has been targeted by Haag primarily because of the size of his business – a strategy the DOJ said it would no longer pursue.
Harborside, like the other legitimate dispensaries in Alameda County, is hardly a menace to the community. In fact, when Haag went after it, the city rallied behind DeAngelo and the industry – just as the county did this month.