The DEA Searches for Ambiguity in Michigan

The Associated Press reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration is demanding medical marijuana records from Michigan's Department of Community Health "as part of an investigation in the Lansing area." The department is resisting, citing a state law that makes it a misdemeanor to release information about patients who use medical marijuana or the caregivers who are authorized to supply them. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Bruha has asked a judge to order the department's compliance, saying that notwithstanding Michigan's medical marijuana law, which was approved by voters in 2008, "the cultivation, possession and distribution of marijuana remains illegal under federal law," so the "state-created confidentiality provision...must yield to the enforcement power of the federal agency."

The DEA wants "copies of any and all documents, records, applications, [and] payment method of any application for Medical Marijuana Patient Cards and Medical Marijuana Caregiver cards and copies of front and back for any cards located" for seven individuals. Although the targets' names are redacted in the public versions of the court documents, the record request may be connected to a raid a few weeks ago on a medical marijuana garden operated by two caregivers in Okemos, which is near Lansing. The Drug War Chronicle reports that the two caregivers were growing a total of 40 plants, which seems to be well within the limits set by state law, since "caregivers can grow up to 12 plants each for up to five patients, as well as growing 12 plants for themselves if they are patients."

So how does this raid jibe with the Justice Department's official policy of leaving medical marijuana suppliers alone when they are in "clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws"? The Chronicle speculates that the DEA may be relying on the garden's joint operation, which is not explicitly permitted or forbidden by state law, for the requisite ambiguity. But DEA agents do not seem all that concerned about complying with the Justice Department's policy, which was announced by Attorney General Eric Holder in October 2009:

When asked about the Holder memo, the agents acted as if they were above the law. "Obama is not our president," [medical marijuana activist Ryan] Basore [who rented the Okemos grow space to the caregivers] reported the agents saying. "The people wanted change," Basore overheard another agent say as they effectively laughed in the face of their own superiors.

A DEA spokesman in Detroit was more circumspect:

"All I can tell you is that this is an ongoing investigation in which we procured the search warrant," said Detroit DEA spokesman Special Agent Rich Isaacson. "Just because someone makes a claim that it is medical marijuana doesn't make it so."

When asked about the October 2009 Justice Department memo urging the DEA to quit going after medical marijuana patients and providers in states where it is legal, Isaacson appeared to agree with the memo, but then suggested Capital Caregivers was somehow outside the state law. "If it's unambiguous that they're following state law, there would be better ways for the department to spend its resources," he said.

"Our mission is to target large-scale drug trafficking groups," Isaacson said, but [he] clammed up when confronted with the fact that the raids had seized only 40 plants. "That number may or may not be accurate," was all he would say.

A.P. reports that Isaacson, when asked about the records that the DEA is seeking, "said agents generally are 'not targeting people that are unambiguously following the state medical marijuana law....The DEA targets large-scale drug trafficking organizations and does not expend its resources on individuals possessing "user amount" quantities of illegal drugs.'" That generally is not reassuring. Neither is Isaacson's conflation of the Justice Department's forbearance regarding medical marijuana suppliers, which was supposed to represent a new policy, and the DEA's longstanding preference for cases involving large quantities of drugs.

I discuss medical marijuana in Michigan here and here. For more on the continuation of the DEA's medical marijuana raids under a president who promised to end them, start here.

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  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Nice medical marijuana law you got there.

    'Be a shame--real shame--if anything...bad...happened to people following it.

  • jtuf||

    If a region can declare itself a sanctuary for illegal aliens, why can't it declare itself a sanctuary for medical marijuana users?

  • Nic Parton||

    It can.

  • ||

    You'd think that, but you'd be wrong.

  • Nic Parton||

    Its not just what I think, its what the majority of voters in 15 states think, and 80 percent of Americans according to some polls. You may or may not agree with it, but that doesn't make much difference when there are six Cannabis dispensaries within four blocks of my house, and I can walk down Main St. smoking a joint without worry. Sooner or later, the minority that disagrees with it will have to give up and accept it.

  • Almanian||

    DEA: "Was someone having fun here? Huh? Cause we DON'T WANT ANYONE HAVING ANY FUN HERE!"

    MI DCH: "Just some folks complying with the law. Nothing to see here."

    DEA: "We'll be the judge of that. While we're here - you do have nutritional information posted in restaurants, don't you? And let us get some intell on those Canadian visitors to your state that the State Dept is interested in."

    TSA: "Let us know if you 'need a hand' with anything, if you know what I'm sayin'...."

    MI DCH: *in fetal position in the corner, shaking*

  • ||

    When the hell is a state going to stand up to the DEA and start arresting them for kidnapping if they arrest legal MJ users/growers in the state?

  • Seer||

    It probably won't be Michigan, since the financial situation in the state is fucked up, a Republican governor was just elected and no one here wants to add the costs of a legal battle to the budget.

  • SFC B||

    I think US v. Brewer is the latest iteration of what happens when a state tries to do something the feds don't like.

  • Cassie||

    When is Obama going to purge these Bush-holdovers from the Justice Department and DEA?

  • Apogee||

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

  • Nic Parton||

    I, for one, hope that the State will not "yield to the power" of those that believe they've the right or the means to tell us how to live. The federal government can arrest as many people as they like, but at every election more states will pass their own Cannabis laws. In the end, these 'drug warriors' are the ones that will yield.

  • cynical||

    The DEA is an international paramilitary operation that is only loosely controlled by the democratic side of the United States government (though the same could be said for the EPA, FCC, FDA, or any number of other agencies strongly controlled by the Technocracy).

    They'll "yield" once they're defeated militarily and their officers are imprisoned, exiled, or executed. Not before.

  • Almanian||

    Awww, more from Michigan and The Law:

    Ecorse to Pay Couple $215,000 in Botched Police Raid
    Instead, the Phelps home was raided — a mix-up that happened during a SWAT team briefing session during which the wrong house was identified, according to the lawsuit.

    And, as a bonus...

    Ecorse needs time to repay because [the city] is struggling with financial problems and is under the control of an emergency financial manager.

    http://www.detnews.com/article.....olice-raid

  • Ted S.||

    The city shouldn't have to pay. The person who briefed the SWAT team should have to pay.

  • cynical||

    A government official rules by divine right, and therefore cannot be punished for his actions by ordinary persons -- this would be a rebellion against the divine order of things.

    Nevertheless, sometimes government officials do things that indisputably require punishment. For the sake of justice, someone must be punished in the place of the government official, and that someone is the taxpayer. In medieval times, that person was called a whipping boy, although that was just an individual assigned to suffer for another individual, as opposed to a class of people assigned to suffer for another class of people. But there are so many more people in the world these days, what can you do?

  • ||

    The DEA continues to be a rogue agency accountable to no one. No surprise here.

  • SIV||

    Well no one excepting the Justice Department and the Executive branch.

  • ||

    Yeah, except when the executive is "not our president" and some similar bullshit excuse for the "Justice" Department I'm sure.

  • SIV||

    He's "their President". Budget going way up and "handcuffs" coming off, the DEA loves Obama.

  • David E. Gallaher/Ruthless||

    Has the DEA become like MacArthur during the Korean War? (I'm old enough to remember.)

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    We'll know if they say disparaging things about artillery officers.

    //Not old enough to remember, but literate.

  • ||

    Well, c'mon now - who among us has not, at one time or another, said disparaging things about artillery officers?

  • Redleg||

    WHAT!?!?! Speak up!

  • ||

    Could you repeat that? Hehe.

    (Is there anything like artillery humour? I think not.)

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    Hmm ... Thats funny. I didn't know MacArthur had a thing about artillery officers. My grandfather was actually an artillery officer, who was on MacArthur's staff in Japan.

  • Gray Ghost||

    Consider Harry Truman's old job...

  • Ted S.||

    The DEA's park is melting in the dark,
    All that sweet green icing flowing down?

  • Ivan||

    The DEA is a federal agency controlled and staffed by the executive branch which the POTUS is in charge of. If he issues an objective (order) and it is ignored, those that ignore it are guilty of insubordination at the least and can and should be fired. If Obama once had balls he has obviously lost them. So much for hope and change.

  • JD||

    Somebody check Michelle's purse.

  • Bucky||

    hmmmm, let's have a look see...
    just dope and change, no balls in here!

  • TallDave||

    Still, we're moving in the right direction. It was practically inconceivable 20 years ago that two states would be openly allowing cultivation.

    Call me an optimist, but I think the obviousness of the truth can only be suppressed for so long.

  • zoltan||

    Makes me feel optimistic about states flouting federal thugs too.

  • ||

    Earth to DEA: The STATE has Officially ACCEPTED Cannabis as MEDICINE. Your CSA Schedule I status for Cannabis is thereby literally Null and VOID.

    [as if there were any constitutional basis in the first place...]

  • SIV||

    Remember civics class? Fed trumps state.
    Particularly if the state wants to recoup any of their share of the Federal gas-tax. "Nice road you got there, would be a shame if you couldn't fill those potholes."

  • CrackertyAssCracker||

    Maybe a trade could be arranged for the DEA guys in michigan prisons for trespassing,theft, and kidnapping.

  • Nic Parton||

    Fed trumps state? Nothing like a nice three-word dictum to delve into the turgid, centuries-old debate over states' rights. Not that you're completely wrong, but fortunately for us here in MI, its not quite that simple.

  • ||

    Just FYI.

    If elected president, I plan to fire the DEA in its entirety, right before I have the Secretary of Education disband their department and leave the cabinet.

  • BakedPenguin||

    That generally is not reassuring.

    Indeed. "We generally don't like arresting people who are obeying the law, but sometimes you gotta say "what the fuck..."

  • alan||

    I'm not worried. I'm sure that as Obama has displayed The Grand, Eloquent Gesture of praising the GM of the Philadelphia Eagles for giving Vick a second chance, he will also stay the hand of the Justice Department in their persecution of medical marijuana users. He'll also unclinch that tight fist that prevents him from signing a few thousand pardons as well.

  • Paul||

    The Associated Press reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration is demanding medical marijuana records from Michigan's Department of Community Health "as part of an investigation in the Lansing area."

    This is what happens when you medicalize marijuana. When the government increasingly says to us, "All your healthcare are belong to us", this is the natural outcome of medicalizing something that should simply be legal, full stop.

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