Fed Crackdown on Medical Marijuana; Advertisements may be next target

By Sara Bloomberg

The Guardsman

Jonathon Calvert holds his medical marijuana card that he received for an injury, on Oct 25, 2011. Calvert initially took doctor prescribed pain medication but did not like the effects, so he tried medical marijuana and it eased his pain. BETH LABERGE / THE GUARDSMAN

Print publications advertising medical marijuana may be the next target of a recent federal crackdown on the substance, causing outrage among advocates and patients who hoped that Obama would decriminalize what they consider to be medicine.

Federal prosecutors in California announced earlier this month that landlords and property owners who rent buildings or land where dispensaries sell or cultivators grow marijuana would be singled out.

U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy, who oversees areas in Southern California, announced her intentions to go after advertisements as well.

So far, Northern California media outlets seem unaffected.

Executive Editor Tim Redmond of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, said the weekly newspaper has not received any notices on the issue. A large chunk of the Guardian’s advertising are medical marijuana ads.

Redmond said he’s more concerned for the dispensaries.

“They support the local economy. They create jobs. It’s going to destroy a growing industry in California”, Redmond said, at a time when the economy desperately needs growth. “If you shut down the dispensaries, they can’t advertise anyways.”

The federal prosecutors claim their decision to crack down on the thriving industry is related to concerns about profiteering and not to any directives from the Department of Justice.

However, the announcement came only a few months after the Department of Justice distributed a memo reversing what many considered to be the Obama Administration’s previous movement towards decriminalization. In 2009 the “Ogden Memo” encouraged federal prosecutors to direct resources away from entities that are in compliance with state laws.

California voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 1996 through Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act.

In June, the department released the “Cole Memo”, stating that persons who cultivate, sell or distribute marijuana, as well as “knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law” and “are subject to federal enforcement action, including prosecution.”

During his 2008 campaign, President Obama supported decriminalizing medical marijuana, saying that he would respect individual states’ laws on the issue but maintained his stance against full legalization.

Federal “Drug Czar” Gil Kerlikowske called for an end to the “war on drugs” rhetoric in 2009. Although the Administration is against full legalization, Kerlikowske said a shift toward a more balanced approach to drug enforcement and treatment was necessary for real progress.

By giving federal prosecutors the power to threaten legitimate, tax-paying businesses  with closure, the Obama Administration is said by many to be escalating the very “war on drugs” it had purportedly ended.

Harborside Health Center, an industry-leading dispensary based in Oakland, was recently ordered to pay an extra $2 million in retroactive taxes, a move that could put them out of business. They’re currently appealing the decision.

According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the federal government recognizes that certain components of cannabis have medicinal value but only when administered through non-smoking methods, specifically in pill form.

Jon Calvert, 29, has been a medical marijuana patient for two years and whole-heartedly disagrees. For him, pharmaceutical pills are not an option.

“I don’t take pills,” he says, because “I don’t like the way they make me feel.”

Marinol is one of a few pharmaceutical-grade pills containing synthetic THC- one of the active components found in cannabis. It is owned by Solvay Pharmaceuticals and approved by the FDA for prescription use.

Cannabidiol is another compound found in cannabis that many people find therapeutic.

Sarah Russo and Fred Gardner of the CBD Project, a grassroots organization dedicated to gathering information and research on the effects of Cannabidiol-rich strains of medical marijuana, said they have already been affected by the crackdown, despite not being directly targeted.

The CBD Project relies on its relationships with both dispensaries and testing laboratories in order to collect data and conduct research.

“Laboratories are in danger [of closing] and their clients [the dispensaries] are dropping off like flies,” said Russo.

Under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is a Schedule I substance, indicating a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use. By contrast, cocaine is listed as a Schedule II substance, indicating that it has some accepted medical use.

“Rescheduling [marijuana] is the key to changing the system,” Gardner said.

The U.S. Army conducted it’s own research in 1929 and published its findings in the Panama Canal Zone Report, concluding that marijuana was not habit forming and not harmful.

Despite the findings, Congress passed the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act in 1932, classifying marijuana as a habit forming drug.