Drugs

The Federal War on Medical Marijuana Becomes a War on Children

Why risk provoking the American public's outrage by escalating its war on medical marijuana patients?
Automatic weapons. Check. Helicopters. Check. Dogs. Check. Bulletproof vests. Check.

You may not buy the government's characterization of its campaign against medical marijuana patients as a "war on drugs," but increasingly violent, militaristic tactics in recent months offer a troubling glimpse into the federal law enforcement community's mentality: To them, this is war.

Raids on medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California on July 17 by federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents, often with local law enforcement officers in tow, seemed designed to send a clear signal that the feds were deliberately escalating their war on medical marijuana patients.

The enemy, then, are people like Ronnie Naulls, a Riverside medical marijuana patient who owned two of the dispensaries raided that day.

A church-going family man who used medical marijuana to ease chronic pain from injuries sustained in a 2001 car accident, Naulls already had two successful businesses -- one as an IT consultant and another as a real estate property manager -- when he established the Healing Nations Collective to save fellow Corona patients the hours-long drive to Los Angeles for medicine.

By all accounts, Naulls ran his collectives with exemplary scrupulousness. He maintained strict dress codes and professional standards for all employees. He paid state taxes on the dispensaries -- amounting to several hundred thousand dollars a year -- even when loose tax regulations allowed other dispensary owners to slip through the cracks. Profits from the dispensaries went to local and national cancer organizations.

Nevertheless, at 5:50 a.m., July 17, Naulls' home and businesses were invaded by DEA agents armed with shotguns, automatic rifles -- even helicopters. They seized everything he owned: his businesses, his property, all of his accounts.

But that wasn't the worst of it. County child protective services came along on the raid and took Naulls' three daughters, aged 1 to 5, and charged him and his wife with child endangerment. They weren't even accused of breaking any state laws.

When Naulls spoke to his children in their foster home, the oldest said, "Daddy, we're ready to come home now. We promise to be good."

Of course they were too young to understand that they were victims of the strong-arm tactics of drug warriors whose goal was probably to make Naulls regret helping fellow patients receive their medicine in a safe, compassionate environment. Who cares if that means ruining a family financially, imprisoning the parents and traumatizing the children?

Federal drug warriors have shown no sign of letting up since then, as dispensary raids have continued steadily in California and Oregon. The DEA has even found creative ways to open new fronts in its war by threatening to go after landlords who lease property to licensed dispensaries.

But why now? Why risk provoking the American public's outrage by escalating its war on medical marijuana patients? Here's one possible explanation: They're losing, and they know it.

While federal law enforcement agencies are busy wasting time and money harassing innocent citizens like Naulls and his family, the rest of the country shows increasing impatience with the government's bullying tactics.

In fact, thanks in large part to the efforts of MPP's Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana, every single Democratic presidential candidate has come out against federal intrusion in medical marijuana states. Two Republican candidates, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, have also voiced strong support for the rights of states to establish medical marijuana laws.

These candidates understand that the vast majority of Americans oppose the federal government's war on medical marijuana patients.

Then again, if the late comedian Bill Hicks was right when he said a war means two armies fighting each other, then this was never really a war, anyway. After all, the ranks of suffering Americans, though large, are hardly an imposing threat to the well-equipped federal forces bent on their destruction.

Instead of calling it a war, perhaps there's a more accurate phrase to describe what we've witnessed from federal law enforcement this summer. How does "pogrom on medical marijuana patients" sound?
Dan Bernath is the Marijuana Policy Project's assistant director of communications, www.mpp.org.
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