Barbara Lee And Medical Marijuana: Oakland Congresswoman Fights Crackdown

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Last week was one of the the darkest for the medical marijuana movement, with the federal Justice Department picking two of San Francisco’s best-known and best-behaving licensed medical cannabis dispensaries for closure. This came mere weeks after U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag moved to close Harborside Health Center — the nation’s biggest pot club and Oakland’s second-biggest taxpayer.

Could things get much worse? Well, sure — Haag could close all of San Francisco’s dispensaries, as she is rumored to be considering to do by Christmas, according to sources.

Enter Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the Oakland Democrat who is mad as hell. She introduced legislation in Washington that would halt Haag and her three California counterparts in their tracks.

Lee on Thursday introduced a bill that would prohibit the Justice Department from using asset forfeiture laws against the landlords of state-legal medical marijuana clubs, according to Americans for Safe Access.

The bill would remove from Haag’s arsenal her most reliable weapon — shutting down clubs with nothing more than a letter sent via certified mail. It would also force her to escalate or abandon the war on those pot patients who suffer from AIDS, cancer, or chronic pain.

The forfeiture laws employed by Haag and her counterparts in Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego were crafted in the 1980s to punish narcotics traffickers, but have been handy tools in the statewide crackdown on medical marijuana,which began last fall.

About a dozen dispensaries have been shut down in the Bay Area since Oct. 7, 2011, and “hundreds” more across the state have moved voluntarily or been evicted by landlords, according to ASA.

In very limited public comments made since the crackdown began, Haag has said that clubs are being targeted for vague and inconsistent reasons: They’re too close to kids, they’re violating some unspecified part of state law, or, in, Harborside’s case, they’re simply too big.

Lee’s bill, H.R. 6335, is called the Medical Marijuana Property Rights Protection Act. It would prohibit the feds from using asset forfeiture proceedings to threaten, intimidate, or otherwise close state-legal cannabis dispensaries, and “begin to align federal law to states’ laws that allow for safe access to medical marijuana,” she said in a statement.

Will it be too little, too late? Or will it even make it out of committee? In any case, Lee’s is the first direct reaction by a member of the federal government to the Justice Department’s arbitrary crackdowns.

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