Federal Actions Contradict Obama Administration’s Claims That It Is Not Targeting State Law-Compliant Businesses
The operator of Sacramento’s first permitted medical marijuana dispensary, which was raided by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), will speak out at a rally on Wednesday at 1:30 pm in front of the federal building along with other patients and supporters.
Last week, the union-run El Camino Wellness Center was forcibly shut down, after having served thousands of Sacramento patients since 2008. Though no charges have been filed against the dispensary operators, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has seized the facility’s bank accounts.
The raid stems from a federal crackdown by U.S. Attorneys in California that began last fall.
“The Obama administration is betraying patients and lying to the public,” said Kris Hermes, spokesperson with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), one of the groups organizing Wednesday’s protest. “The President and the Attorney General have said publicly that the Justice Department is not targeting state-compliant medical marijuana dispensaries, but that’s exactly what it’s doing.”
Earlier this month, Attorney General Eric Holder told members of the House Judiciary committee, “We limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals, organizations that are acting out of conformity with state law.” However, by all accounts, El Camino was acting in full conformity with local and state laws.
What: Rally to protest the June 11th DEA raid on El Camino Wellness Center and widespread federal intimidation
When: TODAY – Wednesday, June 20th at 1:30pm
Where: US Federal Courthouse, 501 I Street, Sacramento
Who: Raided dispensary operator Suneet Agarwal will speak out, along with attorney James Anthony, and Dan Rush of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 5 (supportive Sacramento City Council member Steve Cohn has also been invited to speak)
Since October 2011, the Justice Department has sent letters to more than 300 dispensary operators and landlords across California, threatening criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture if state-compliant businesses are not shut down. Sacramento in particular has been hard hit, despite its attempt to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries.
As a result of the threats, almost all of the nearly 100 dispensaries have closed in unincorporated Sacramento County. In the City of Sacramento, only 18 dispensaries remain of the original 34 that had been permitted, and many of those left have already received threatening letters, including El Camino Wellness Center.
In response to the federal crackdown and the letter sent to El Camino Wellness Center’s landlord, Sacramento City Council member Steve Cohn sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner in November stating his support for El Camino Wellness and its operator Suneet Agarwal. Cohn called the dispensary a “good neighbor” and was “impressed by [El Camino’s] overall level of compassion and professionalism.”
Cohn emphasized his hope that “federal authorities will work proactively with cities like Sacramento who are trying to implement and enforce reasonable ordinances in compliance with California law.” More than 50 localities in California, including the City of Sacramento, have adopted ordinances regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.
“Local and state governments must be allowed to develop, implement and enforce their own public health laws without interference from the federal government,” said Hermes.
In December, El Camino Wellness Center sued Attorney General Holder and U.S. Attorney Wagner, claiming that the Justice Department crackdown violated the rights of medical marijuana patients and was aimed at shutting down their legal supply.
“Whether intentional or not, the Obama administration is pushing patients into the illicit market by forcing dispensaries to close,” said ASA’s Courtney Sheats. “If El Camino Wellness, a taxpaying pillar of its community, fails to pass muster with the federal government, then no one is safe.”
The raid comes as several public officials have vocally opposed the Justice Department’s actions, including local and state legislators, as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Betty Yee from the California Board of Equalization, which collects more than $100 million in sales taxes from dispensaries like El Camino Wellness.
In December, California Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote to the state’s four U.S. Attorneys, calling the federal government “ill-equipped to be the sole arbiter of whether an individual or group is acting within the bounds of California’s medical marijuana laws.”