Marijuana Legalization: Pot Crackdowns in California Are Abusive And Ineffectual


“We are confused and absolutely terrified” — the shocking words of Molly Davies, wife of Matt Davies, a California medical marijuana provider who is being indicted by federal authorities and may face up to 10 years in prison.

Matt Davies has not been charged with any crime by the state of California, as he operated his Medizen dispensary with painstaking attention to state law, which allows the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries. Yet he and co-owner Lynn F. Smith and warehouse grow operation manager Robert Duncan are being charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office as if they were large-scale criminal drug dealers. Charged with five years, federal prosecutors have threatened to add additional charges with a 10-year minimum sentence unless he pleads guilty.

In a letter to be sent to President Obama on Monday and viewable at the Huffington Post, Molly Davies writes that she and her husband are “a regular, middle-class family” who did not start the business for the money – the Davies took in less than $50,000 a year for managing an operation which employed dozens of people – and that despite not breaking any state laws, they now have to face the prospect of their children growing up without a father. Molly Davies insisted that her husband did not begin the operation with the intent of profiteering, instead highlighting how Matt’s grandfather died slowly and painfully from cancer – and how medical marijuana could have eased his pain.

“Mr. President, my husband is not a criminal and shouldn’t be treated like one. Matt is not a drug dealer or trafficker. He’s not driving around in a fancy car and living in some plush mansion — trust me,” Davies penned in the letter. “My husband is a regular guy, and we’re a regular, middle-class family. Yet even though Matt took great pains to follow state and local law, he is currently facing a severe prison sentence. This all seems so surreal.”

“This is a nightmare,” she wrote, urging the president to order the federal authorities to drop the case.

Molly Davies says that the couple had seen official memos from the Department of Justice saying the federal authorities have “no interest in prosecuting folks for using and providing medical marijuana so long as they comply with their state’s laws,” and feel betrayed after the president told Barbara Walters that it made no sense for federal authorities to target recreational users in a state which has legalized it.

President Obama said the feds have “bigger fish to fry.” Molly Davies, however, says Matt is not the fish to fry.

The federal investigation began in September 2011, when Davies disclosed to a police officer who had pulled him over for speeding that he was rushing to respond to a potential break-in at his marijuana warehouse. A few weeks later, Stockton law enforcement responded to reports of suspicious activity at the facility. There wasn’t; workers were merely repairing a broken window. But surveying the site allowed the federal authorities probable cause to raid the site and confiscate over 1,962 marijuana plants and 40 pounds of processed marijuana.

The Davies' lawyer, Steven Ragland, said that the charges were “obscene.”

“It is shocking that the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District would choose to charge Matt with a mandatory minimum at all that would remove all discretion by the sentencing judge. And it's frankly obscene that they're telling him now to agree to spend seven years of his life in federal prison or face new charges that carry a ten year mandatory,” Ragland said.

He commented that it especially didn’t make sense given the rapid pace by which states are decriminalizing, allowing medical usage of, or flat-out legalizing marijuana.

“If Matt spent a decade in prison, during that decade you might have Phillip Morris selling medical marijuana,” said Ragland. “During that decade, you could have it evolve into something that is not even arguably a federal crime.”

While federal authorities do indeed have discretion to pursue the case, the tactics used by the prosecutors in charging are reprehensible. Davies sold marijuana to sick people in an effort to make their lives better, selling only to those with permits issued by a doctor in accordance with state law.

He should not be be hounded like a common criminal.

The Davies aren't the only ones being subjected to harsh charges. Last Monday, distributor Aaron Sandusky was sentenced to ten years in federal prison. Just weeks before the New York Times commented that marijuana "might just as well" be legal in California thanks to liberalizing attitudes about the drug and lax state laws. The politician most see as the most serious contender for Califnoria's next governor, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, says that many users he knows are "incredibly upstanding people" and that "Increasingly, people are willing to share how they use it and not be ashamed of it."

How do federal prosecutors think that cracking down on state-law-abiding distributors of medical marijuana is going to reverse this seemingly unstoppable demographic trend towards destigmatization of all marijuana use?

Prosecuting state-legal medical marijunana distributors is a terrible use of resources at a time when money and budgets are tighter than ever. The Atlantic estimates the cost of the prosecution at more than a million dollars, and cites a wide variety of reasons prosecutors are utilizing poor judgment in this case: the cost of prosecution and appeals, $235,000 in incarceration costs, substantial lost tax revenue, and giving a wider market share to dealers with no interest in complying with any law, including violent drug cartels.

Just days ago, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner directed civil prosecutors to “stop the crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries” made possible by abuse of zoning laws. On Thursday, the Arizona Court of Appeals ordered the Yuma County Sheriff to return confiscated medical marijuana to a California woman who was traveling across the Arizona border with her drugs.

State and local courts and authorities are learning that medical marijuana prohibition is a losing war. Why hasn’t the federal government?

They are wasting billions fighting low-level marijuana users and distributors in a war that seems beyond certain to fail. But at the same time federal authorities are letting a major bank, HSBC, completely off the hook after they laundered hundreds of millions of dollars for Mexican drug cartels that kill, maim, and torture people.

“There appears to be an exception for employees of large banks that have engaged in particularly serious and egregious violations of the law. That’s an insane policy,” says Jimmy Gurulé, a law professor at Notre Dame.

Americans should be angry.