|Image source – Drug War Chronicle|
Several hundred — perhaps as many as a thousand — medical marijuana patients, providers, and supporters took to the streets of Oakland Monday afternoon to put President Obama on notice that they are extremely unhappy with his administration’s crackdown on dispensaries. The president arrived at the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland for a fundraising event later Monday evening.
The crowd was up in arms over the federal offensive that has seen hundreds of California dispensaries shuttered by threats of asset forfeiture or criminal prosecution since the state’s four US Attorneys announced the joint offensive last fall. But it was even more incensed by the May raids on Richard Lee’s Oaksterdam University and last week’s issuance of asset forfeiture lawsuits aimed Harborside Health Center, the nation’s largest medical marijuana dispensary.
Steve DeAngelo, Harborside’s chief executive officer, led the raucous march past Oaksterdam University as it circled the Fox Theater before returning to Frank Ogawa Plaza. Waving signs saying “Fight Crime, Not Cannabis” and “Save Harborside, Save My Job,” demonstrators chanted “Obama, keep your promise!” and shouted obscene references to the drug war.
Local businesses around Oaksterdam showed their support by displaying green flags. And numerous passing motorists honked in support, drawing huge cheers from the crowd.
Earlier in the day there was street theater at Frank Ogawa Plaza, followed by an early afternoon press conference at Oaksterdam University to denounce the offensive against the dispensaries in general and the recent assault on Harborside, one of the movement’s flagships, in particular.
“I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue,” Obama pledged during the 2008 campaign. The patients, providers, and political figures who stood before the microphones and TV cameras demanded that he — and the federal agencies he controls — abide by that pledge.
“This is a watershed moment for our movement,” said De Angelo. “If the US Attorneys are able to come after Harborside, no other dispensary will be safe. We want an immediate freeze on all such law enforcement actions until the highest levels of Justice can review them to ensure they are consistent with administration policy not to target organizations compliant with state law. Today, we are sending the president a message that will be too powerful to ignore.”
“An attack on providers is an attack on patients,” said Oaksterdam University executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones. “Attacking the providers keeps the criminals in charge of distribution and profits the cartels,” she charged. “Name the advantages of continuing this failed policy, Mr. President.”
Bob Swanson, a spokesman for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, was there to show Miley’s support for the medical marijuana community. Miley was going to take a resolution passed by the county Democratic Party Central Council condemning the crackdown before the county board of supervisors, he announced.
“We’re spending millions to bust dispensaries providing services to sick people,” Swanson said. “President Obama needs to understand that his prosecutors have gone rogue — they’ve gone Sarah Palin on him. This may cost him votes, and he needs every vote he can get.”
Local officials have reason to support the dispensaries. In addition to providing services for the sick, they provide jobs and tax revenues. With its 100,000 patients, Harborside alone employs more than a hundred people and did more than $22 million in business last year, generating $1 million in tax revenues for the city of Oakland and another $2 million for the state of California.
But it wasn’t just local officials. The press conference also drew Libertarian Party vice-presidential candidate Judge Jim Gray, hoping to find support for himself and the top half of his ticket, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, among those disenchanted with the administration’s medical marijuana policies.
“Nothing good will come from closing down places like Harborside and Oaksterdam,” said Gray, a longtime critic of drug prohibition. “Patients will have to go underground to get their medicine, and it won’t result in less availability; it’ll just make it illegal, giving more money to the drug cartels and criminal gangs,” he argued.
“I proudly represent Gary Johnson, who understands this whole drug war system,” Gray said, garnering loud applause. “He stands with you today, and I stand with him. There is no hope for medical marijuana dispensaries if either Obama or Romney is elected — only Gary Johnson will ensure their survival.”
“This federal crackdown is the broadest and most serious since voters here approved medical marijuana in 1996,” said Don Duncan, California coordinator for Americans for Safe Access. “We’ve got paramilitary-style raids, we’ve got intimidation in the financial sector, we’ve got denial of gun rights. An attack on patients’ access is an attack on medical cannabis patients. It is legal patients and their caregivers who comprise our co-ops and collectives, that’s who’s going to suffer. If the administration wants the support and enthusiasm of our people, they’re going to have to stop attacking medical cannabis patients.”
There were several wheelchair-bound medical marijuana patients on stage as well, including Yvonne Westbrook-Whig, a multiple sclerosis sufferer who asked the president to “please show some compassion,” but it was Jason David, whose young son, Jayden, suffers from a severe seizure syndrome, who most vividly brought home the impact of the attack on dispensaries.
“You have two beautiful daughters, Mr. President, you can imagine how it would feel, but you’re going to shut down Harborside, the medical marijuana facility that takes care of my son’s needs. What am I going to do? We use a CBD tincture that is non-psychoactive to reduce his seizures — he’s had more than 300 of them — please help me save my son and help out the medical marijuana community. He’s had to make 45 trips in the ambulance, but not one since medical marijuana. Everything you said before the election turned out to be a lie. Mr. Obama, I want some answers.”
None have been forthcoming so far, but the medical marijuana community in Oakland and its supporters are doing everything they can to get the president to notice he has a problem.
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