Despite campaign promises to the contrary, the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder has continued raiding marijuana dispensaries in states where cannabis is legal for medical purposes. But the DOJ has changed one policy now that it’s under Democratic control: It has stopped publicizing medical marijuana raids, refusing to distribute press releases and requesting that more cases be sealed under court order.
After recent Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI raids of medical marijuana dispensaries in Las Vegas, Nevada (last week), Mendocino County and San Diego, California, and in Michigan (all in July), the DEA and U.S. Attorney’s offices issued no press releases and held no press conferences, reports Mike Riggs at The Daily Caller.
The websites for DEA and the U.S. Attorney’s offices in Detroit, Denver, Northern California, and Los Angeles (which also handles Nevada cases) make no mention of the dispensary raids — but do feature typically self-congratulatory news releases for raids, arrests, and investigations involving harder drugs, as well as marijuana trafficking, which is illegal in all 50 states.
This is one of the more notable differences at Obama’s DOJ, where Bush appointee Michele Leonhart is now Obama’s choice to run the DEA, according to Kris Hermes, spokesman for medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.
|Kris Hermes, ASA: “Either these are rogue DEA agents and U.S. Attorneys operating in violation of Holder’s memo, or the DEA and the DOJ want to be able to go about continuing a policy of undermining state marijuana laws without drawing attention”|
”There was a time under the Bush Administration that [the DEA and U.S. Attorneys]were quite proud of their attempts to go about continuing a policy of undermining state medical marijuana laws,” Hermes said.
“Either these are rogue DEA agents and U.S. Attorneys operating in violation of Holder’s memo, or the DEA and the DOJ want to be able to go about continuing a policy of undermining state marijuana laws without drawing attention,” Hermes said.
The withholding of information may be a political tactic, according to Hermes. While President Obama hasn’t said much about drug policy since taking office, he said several times during the campaign that he would end raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in states that had legalized cannabis for medicinal uses.
Hermes and other marijuana activists charge that the President is hiding a broken promise.
A DOJ spokeswoman, of course, denied that the department had changed its official policy regarding publicizing medical marijuana raids.
“As has been the case for a long time, the [United States Attorneys’ Manual] vests authority for press decisions with the [United States Attorneys], in coordination with Main Justice,” spokeswoman Laura Sweeney told TheDC. “USAs make individual decisions on whether to issue press releases based on a number of factors.”
But Garrison Courtney, head of communications for the DEA from 2005-2009, confirmed that his office regularly publicized dispensary raids.
“When I was chief of public affairs, if it was a good case and a good bust, we put it out,” Courtney said. “There were some of the medical marijuana shops that had a ton of cash, a ton of weed, or a ton of guns, and we put it out. There wasn’t any policy against that.”
And yet, in the Michigan case, guns were found, but no press release was ever issued by the DEA or the U.S. Attorney, The Daily Caller points out.
“If you look at the DEA website, there are a lot of [Bush era] news releases from San Francisco and Los Angeles,” Courtney said. “We were pretty aggressive in talking about the different dispensaries and the fact that they were operating in violation of federal law.”
Are Court Orders Being Abused To Seal Records?
One reason why the DOJ hasn’t publicized more raids lately is that U.S. Attorneys’ offices can’t publicize cases that they have sealed under court order.
“Generally speaking, sealing is by order of the court for law enforcement reasons,” Sweeney told TheDC. “And of course there wouldn’t be any press release if a case is sealed. If there aren’t any public court documents, we couldn’t do press — that’s true for any sealed case, regardless of whether it involves alleged medical marijuana.”
But the increasing use of court orders to seal records strikes some marijuana advocates as a politicization of the justice system. They point to the fact that although no arrests were made in the five dispensary raids in Nevada, or in the the Mendocino County case, every single cases was sealed under court order.