On Oct. 20th, 2009, Federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) personnel raided the property of Mr. Martin Pieper of Fort Collins, Colorado, confiscating 150 cannabis plants and growing equipment. Mr. Pieper has claimed that his cultivation was allowed by Coloradoâ€™s medical cannabis law passed by initiative in 2000 (Colorado Constitutional Amendment 20) and that, as a designated caregiver, he is entitled to the return of his crop. To date, Mr. Pieper has yet to receive from the DEA one plant, one gram, or even one cent in monetary compensation for the confiscation and likely destruction of his property and the property of the patientâ€™s under his care.
In an ironic twist, on Oct. 19th, the day before the raid, Federal Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Justice Department would no longer prosecute those patients and caregivers who were in â€œclear and unambiguous compliance with existing state law.â€ The medical cannabis community breathed a heavy sigh of relief having endured crackdowns during the previous two administrations, and believed that this was the â€œChangeâ€ they had voted for. Unfortunately, the announcement was taken to mean that the Federal government would stop harassing medical cannabis patients and their caregivers entirely, but, as Mr. Pieperâ€™s case is quickly demonstrating, the Federal government had no such intention.
Mr. Holderâ€™s memorandum states that:
â€œThe prosecution of significant traffickers of illegal drugs, including marijuana, and the disruption of illegal drug manufacturing and trafficking networks continues to be a core priority in the Departmentâ€™s efforts against narcotics and dangerous drugs, and the Departmentâ€™s investigative and prosecutorial resources should be directed towards these objectives. As a general matter, pursuit of these priorities should not focus federal resources in your States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana.â€ [Emphasis added]
These emphases tell a few things.
- It is up to Federal discretion as to what constitutes a â€œsignificantâ€ amount as such ambiguity can always be used to their advantage to justify searches, seizures, and arrests.
- Federal prosecution of cannabis is still a priority despite state medical cannabis laws because of its Schedule I status.
- Pursuit of this priority is now simply discretionary instead of mandatory despite state laws allowing medical cannabis. If Mr. Holder had truly meant to exempt compliant medical cannabis patients and their caregivers from Federal prosecution, he would have put some definitive force behind his words by saying â€œwill notâ€ instead of â€œshould not.â€ No doubt his statement was perused by a team of attorneys before going to print, to allow the maximum amount of wiggle room for the Feds should the public cry afoul of their actions and seek to hold them accountable.
Mr. Holder goes on to give a bold statement:
â€œOf course, no State can authorize violations of federal lawâ€¦â€
Au contraire, Mr. Holder! Many states, since the inception of the Union, have used the principle of interposition to nullify and â€œviolateâ€ Federal laws that were deemed harmful to their residents and their interests. The greatest such example of this was widespread resistance by abolitionist states to the Fugitive Slave Act throughout the mid-19th century. The use of nullification is an essential check on Federal overreach into areas not explicitly authorized by the Constitution. Contemporary examples of this include state nullification of Federal firearm regulations, REAL ID, national healthcare, and even the legalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Is it possible that the DEA has had it right all along, that they knew Mr. Pieper was indeed using Amendment 20 as a shield for a commercial cannabis crop and thus warranted a raid? Yes, it is. However, the proper thing for them to do with such information would be to notify Colorado authorities and leave it up to them as to whether or not Mr. Pieper should be prosecuted. The Federal government has no legitimate authority to regulate that which is produced in a state until it crosses state lines. Furthermore, when it comes to what Americans can and cannot use as medicine, nothing in the Constitution authorizes the Federal government to regulate this either, in a clear violation of the sanctified doctor-patient relationship, as well as the 10th Amendment.
In modern, Western jurisprudence, it is proper to present evidence to a judge for a warrant, or a grand jury for an indictment; it is doubtful that the DEA did either. If this man is guilty of a crime, certainly the government can prove so beyond the shadow of a doubt before a jury in a court of law. Rather than steal Mr. Pieperâ€™s property and leave him in a legal limbo, the Federal government should urge Colorado to prosecute this man and provide them with the evidence that will secure a conviction. If he is guilty of hiding behind Amendment 20 for his own personal gain, he deserves to be brought to justice for it in a Colorado court of law, and, in this writerâ€™s opinion, he deserves to have the book thrown at him for discrediting the pure and honest intention of compassion that lies at the heart of the medical cannabis community.
I wholeheartedly implore Colorado residents to urge their legislators to give Amendment 20 some teeth when it comes to Federal interference. Coloradoans, as well as those residents in present and future medical cannabis states, must beseech their legislators to take up the spirit of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions of 1798 that declared it the solemn duty of the states to stand up to an abusive Federal government and interpose on behalf of their residentsâ€™ interests.
Partially nullifying unconstitutional Federal drug laws has not been enough to dissuade the Feds from calling off their goons. Demand that they make it a state felony, punishable by fines and/or prison time, should Federal agents interfere at all with the law-abiding members of the medical cannabis community, and that their proper role in pursuing the â€œwolves in sheepâ€™s clothingâ€ should be restricted to information-sharing only. Or best yet, encourage them to seek a â€œseparate peaceâ€ to the â€œWar on Drugsâ€ by nullifying prohibition and pursuing a more peaceful and productive alternative, such as rehabilitation.
Whatever you decide to do, Colorado, do so with the foremost thought that your patients and their caregivers are still being harassed by the Federal government despite their overtures of non-interference, and that while imprisonment may no longer be mandatory in their rapacious repertoire, thievery still seems to be their forte. Do not give them the satisfaction, Colorado! Stand up for your sick and dying, the people who care for them, and the 10th Amendment to the Constitution!
CLICK HERE â€“ to view the Tenth Amendment Centerâ€™s Legislative Tracking Page for State Marijuana Legislation.
Patrick Reagan is a libertarian Constitutionalist who is currently traveling abroad.
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