Thursday, May 1, 2008

Mayor's Letter Calls For Hearings of DEA: Berkeley

Mayor's Letter Calls For Hearings of DEA
CONTRIBUTING WRITER - Daily Californian (Berkeley, CA)
Date Added Thursday, May 1, 2008 | 4:38 am
Date Modified Thursday, May 1, 2008 | 4:38 am
In a move reflecting the city's supportive stance as a sanctuary
for medical marijuana, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates wrote a letter last
Thursday urging the federal government to stop the Drug Enforcement
Administration from intervening with the work of dispensaries.
Bates wrote the letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John
Conyers calling for congressional hearings about letters the agency
sent in 2007 that threatened landlords renting to medical marijuana
The landlords of dispensaries, three of which are in Berkeley, were
threatened with property forfeiture or criminal prosecution.
"This is really a back-door way to try to eliminate access to medical
marijuana," said Julie Sinai, chief of staff to Bates. "We want
Congressman Conyers to call for hearings to get the (agency) to focus
on issues of hard drug use and serious drug offenses instead of
targeting medical marijuana dispensaries."

Kris Hermes, spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, said the
agency has raided upwards of 100 dispensaries across California since
June 2005-with more than 50 occurring in 2007 alone-forcing many to
The agency's threatening letters led the City Council to pass a
resolution on Jan. 29 declaring Berkeley a sanctuary for medical
marijuana patients and dispensaries.
"Medical marijuana is a proven medication that helps alleviate a
number of chronic diseases," Sinai said. "The city of Berkeley feels
that residents should be able to get the medications that they need
with the supervision of (doctors)."
While cannabis is illegal at the federal level, some states have
passed laws allowing for its usage. California votes legalized
medical marijuana in 1996 with the Compassionate Use Act.
"Twelve years after (the act) passed, we are still living in fear (of
raids)," said Becky DeKeuster, community liaison for the dispensary,
Berkeley Patients Group. "(The) situation is unjust and we welcome
congressional oversight into what's happening here, so we are very
grateful to the mayor for taking a stand."
Officials at Berkeley dispensaries said they were targeted although
they were operating legally under state law.
"They focused in areas like Berkeley ... where dispensaries have
shown that they can be positive members of the community," DeKeuster
Bates' letter is the fifth in a string of requests already sent to
Conyers by the mayors of San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz and West
"It's good to see that local and regional leadership is all on the
same page on this issue," said Michael Hunt, spokesperson for Oakland
Mayor Ron Dellums. "It's the responsibility of the state and local
governments to uphold the will of voters and adopt sensible
guidelines to regulate the provision of medical cannabis in our
Hermes said he believes the hearings will discourage congressmen from
using the agency to regulate dispensaries.
"They'll soon conclude that it is not wise (to) use taxpayers' money (to
interfere with) medical marijuana patients and providers in states
where it's legal," he said.
Robert MacCoun, UC Berkeley professor of law and public policy, said
Bates' letter may help make the federal government accept medical
marijuana use in the state.
"(The letter) could make a difference because there's a very good
chance we're going to enter a new era with a new administration which
may make federal interference with medical marijuana less of a
priority," he said. "The federal government thinks medical marijuana
is a slippery slope towards marijuana legalization, and it probably
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