Medical marijuana: Law enforcement group rips dispensary seizure letters

U.S. Attorney John Walsh says he's not bluffing when it comes to seizure letters sent to 23 medical marijuana dispensaries near schools. And Neill Franklin, executive director of Massachusetts-based Law Enforcement Against Prohibition fears he's in earnest.

That's why he's co-authored a letter, on view below, in which he criticizes Walsh's decision in no uncertain terms.

Here's an excerpt from the document, signed by Franklin, who served as a police officer in Baltimore for 34 years, and past Westword profile subject Leonard Frieling, an attorney and former judge:

For you to join maverick prosecutors in California, Montana, Rhode Island, Washington and other states in going out of your way to short-circuit the will of the people and their elected representatives and to place obstacles between patients and their medicine is short-sighted and inimical to the public health, safety and welfare. Your actions bring law-enforcement into disrepute with the spoken will of the voters and their state representatives.

In conversation, Franklin is just as emphatic. "Nobody really knows what's in the head of someone else when they make the decisions they make," he acknowledges. "We can only go by what they've communicated to us. And when U.S. Attorney Walsh sent these letters out to dispensaries that were already approved by state and local government in Colorado to operate under state law, it is my opinion that he was just hopping on the bandwagon of the U.S. Attorneys in California and other states.

"The people have decided that this is okay -- that this is what they want in Colorado. And that's who he should be serving, even though he's a federal public servant. He needs to respect the will of voters and abide by what they've put in place."

In Franklin's view, Walsh's actions "will lead to a couple of things. Those patients who have been receiving their medicine from these dispensaries will now have to seek out other avenues, and I'm afraid that many of them may resort to what is most convenient. That's the illegal trade, which the last place we want people to turn, because it's a dangerous environment -- a market run by criminals who use violence to control market share."

Moreover, "the medication these patients will receive through the illegal market has no quality control standards. They'll have no idea what they're going to be ingesting. And the illegal system makes drugs more accessible to our kids. We know that. In the illicit market, we have a drug dealer on every corner and in every one of our schools. But we can begin to eliminate that trade through regulation and control -- and that's what dispensaries are for when it comes to people who use medical marijuana. They give us a much better chance of keeping marijuana away from our children."

Walsh claims that one reason he's focusing on dispensaries near schools is due to the possibility of children getting access to an illegal drug. But Franklin has seen no evidence that kids have obtained marijuana from any Colorado MMC, due in part to the rigorous set of laws constructed around the industry.

"Can any policy be circumvented?" he asks. "Yes, and we all know that. But with what you have established in Colorado, it makes it very difficult for a child to inappropriately access the system of a dispensary. That's what we're trying to do in this country -- make it difficult for children to access all drugs. You can't do that with an illicit trade, and that's basically what the U.S. Attorney will encourage by closing down dispensaries. He's sending people right back into the illicit market."

Why do Walsh and his counterparts in other states fail to see the situation in the ways espoused by LEAP?

"I equate it to being brainwashed," Franklin says. "I don't mean that in a bad way. It's just something that they've done for many years. And I know how they feel. I was in the law-enforcement business for three decades, and it wasn't an overnight adjustment for me. It didn't just happen at the drop of a dime. It took some educating, it took time to look at it from a different perspective, and it took time for people to share data and information with me that I hadn't seen before. That's why our organization is so important. We not only interact with ordinary citizens, but we interact with folks in the law-enforcement profession, encouraging them to take the time and go through the same process we went through.

"We understand that there will be some people who will refuse to hear or see what we have to say. But by far the majority, once we give them the information and they've had time to digest it, begin to see the truth. You can't help but do that, because it's based on science and facts, not on feelings or innuendos. If you've got a logical cell in your body, you're going to see this, but it's going to take time."

As for why Walsh and other U.S. Attorneys are cracking down now, Franklin has some theories about their timing, which he sees as aimed at wider legalization efforts.

Page down to read more of our interview with LEAP's Neill Franklin.  

"I'm disappointed with the Obama administration, and I'm not the only one," Franklin points out. "A couple of years ago, [Attorney General] Eric Holder's office sent out a letter to the thirteen states that had approved medical marijuana under state law. And that letter" -- popularly known as the Ogden memo -- "pretty much said, 'We're not going to use our resources to enforce these federal marijuana laws if dispensaries and folks in the business are operating under your state law.' And that's what you have in Colorado. But now, Walsh is sending out this letter to 23 dispensaries, saying, 'We're coming after you. We don't care if you're operating under state law. We're coming after you criminally, and we're coming after your property. It's ridiculous. I know the president has a lot on his mind, but the letter was sent out from Eric Holder's office, and he needs to abide by his words."

The current campaign by U.S. Attorneys "does seem to be somewhat of an organized, coordinated effort," Franklin believes. "And it's interesting that most of the attention happens to be in states that are anticipating marijuana legalization efforts this year, including in Colorado," where the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act seems all but certain to make the ballot, and measures from and activist Michelle LaMay are also in the mix.

"There's no doubt in my mind that they're trying to discourage not just policy-makers, but they're trying to discourage voters," Franklin goes on. "They're trying to discourage those in the business, those who are eagerly moving forward with better marijuana regulation and control to get it out of the illicit trade. Their focus is on states like Colorado and California and Washington, where there have been or will likely be legalization efforts -- and in the other eleven or twelve states that have approved medical marijuana, we're not seeing this type of action. And in my opinion, it's because there's no talk or movement about legalization in those states."

All medical marijuana systems aren't created equal, Franklin stresses. "Some states have had problems with their programs, but that's not the fault of the people and those in the business. It's the fault of policy makers who failed to move in an appropriate manner to establish the right models of regulation and control. They didn't put the proper procedures in place, and because of those policy makers, there have been some problems.

"But Colorado is not one of those states. What your state has done is what should be done when it comes to medical marijuana dispensaries. They're on top of it -- which is another thing that surprises me about what Walsh has done. Here's a state doing the right thing, and continuing to do the right think in looking at medical marijuana policies and being poised to make adjustments where they're needed. Colorado has been very conscientious, and yet dispensaries there are being targeted."

If specific dispensaries are closed and/or seized, as Walsh promises, Franklin feels "the people of Colorado really need to come together and say this isn't right -- that the federal government shouldn't be interfering in a state process that the people are very much behind. And that raises the question of how far the federal government will go. Does it stop with medical marijuana? Or when they see that the people refuse to push back against their action, could this bleed over into other areas of government interference? That's something to really think about. And in my opinion, it's going too far."

Here's the LEAP letter:

LEAP Letter to US Attorney John Walsh

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More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana: No punishment for possession under Michelle LaMay's new ballot proposal."

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