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Medical marijuana groups ask President Obama to call off MMJ crackdowns

At 2 p.m., hours before President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak at CU-Boulder, members of Colorado's medical marijuana industry will stage a press conference at which they'll ask the commander in chief to order call off federal law-enforcers such as U.S. Attorney John Walsh, whose seizure-threat letters to dispensaries near schools, which began in January, entered its second phase last month.

"Clearly what's been going on in Colorado, with John Walsh sending threatening letters to medical marijuana centers, violates the administration's stated policy to respect state laws on medical marijuana issues," says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association.

Aaron Smith, right, with marijuana activist Mason Tvert.
Aaron Smith, right, with marijuana activist Mason Tvert.

As Smith argued when decrying the initial wave of U.S. Attorney letters, memos written by then-Deputy Attorney General David Ogden and Deputy Attorney General James Cole advise federal law-enforcers not to expend scarce resources prosecuting MMJ operations that are legal by the standard of states where medical marijuana has been authorized. And he says the MMCs that have been ordered to shut down or move to a location at least 1,000 feet from a school "were in clear compliance with the law -- and if they weren't, we have a Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division here in Colorado that's tasked with dealing with it. So we want the president to see that this is a major issue in Colorado and rein in his Justice Department."

Although Obama's visit to Colorado isn't officially a campaign stop, his pitch to prevent a rise in student-loan rates appears to be an effort to shore up loyalty among young voters -- a key part of his base. But while this slice of the populace tends to favor medical marijuana access (and marijuana reform), Smith points out that it's far from the only group to take such a position.

"We know that support for medical marijuana is already upwards of 75 percent across the country," he says. "And I'm sure that number would be even higher in Colorado, because it takes into account states that are very conservative. So it's not just the youth vote. Youth and younger voters may be more supportive of this than the older generation, but it makes no political sense to assault state-legal medical marijuana providers that create jobs, pay taxes and strengthen communities when they have such overwhelming public support -- and when that support cuts across demographic lines."

Page down to continue reading our preview of the MMJ industry message to President Obama.

During most of his public statements justifying the closure letters, Walsh has emphasized his determination to protect children from illicit drugs -- and marijuana remains against the law on the federal level whether or not it's being used for medical purposes in states that allow it. But some of the 25 dispensaries targeted in the latest mailing are close to colleges populated almost entirely by adults rather than children. In a previous interview, U.S. Attorney's Office spokesman Jeff Dorschner said such actions were justified because colleges are classified as schools in federal regulations -- a rationale that makes Smith question Walsh's real goals.

"I think it's disingenuous to try to couch this action as some kind of move to protect children, especially now that they are targeting centers located near adult-education centers," he maintains. "But I'd also mention that there is no correlation between crime and the location of a medical-cannabis center. There have been no recorded sales to minors through any of the state-legal medical marijuana centers. To be frank, if kids want to buy marijuana, they can probably buy it illegally at their school -- they're not going to medical marijuana centers. If that would happen, it would clearly be covered by the media and we would have heard of it. But there hasn't been a single case."

The message for the President? "We're hoping the Obama administration and the Obama campaign see the importance of this issue from both a policy and a political standpoint. Medical marijuana is not going away, and the best way to get medicine to patients is through a legal, regulated model like we have in Colorado. It makes no sense to use Justice Department resources to undermine a state's ability to regulate.

"In his heart, he knows what's right," Smith believes. "But he needs to step up and make this a priority by simply telling the Justice Department to follow the stated policies set forth in the Ogden memo."

The press conference is scheduled to take place at 2 p.m. today at The Hill Cannabis Club and Wellness Center, 1121 North Broadway in Boulder. In addition to Smith, speakers are scheduled to include Mark Belkin, UFCW Local 7's community affairs and organizing director, dispensary owners Kim Riese and Mike Matthews, and Chelsey Joseph, who's both a CU-Boulder student and an employee of Colorado Dispensary Services.

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Pot shop seizure letters decried by National Cannabis Industry Association."


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