By Marguerite Arnold
On July 30, 2015, Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., sent a letter to the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Justice, the agency’s internal oversight office. The two congressmen are the original name sponsors of an amendment that became law last year, prohibiting the expenditure of federal DEA funds to prosecute legitimate marijuana users and businesses in states where the plant is now legal.
Why did Farr and Rohrabacher send the letter? To demand that the OIG immediately investigate what activists have been afraid of for some time—that the department would continue using federal funds to prosecute cases in states where marijuana is now legal—and further work in conjunction with state and local “task forces” to continue the same activities under a different name.
“We request that you immediately investigate the Department’s expenditure of funds to continue prosecuting these cases, which we believe are a direct violation of the prohibition on such expenditures established by Rohrabacher-Farr,” the representatives wrote in the letter. “Accordingly, it is essential that the Inspector General ensure that the Department is maintaining records that document the management decisions made, as well as any fiscal implications of those decisions as they related to these potential violations, so that the appropriate parties may be held accountable.”
The letter also addressed the asset forfeiture actions in the San Francisco Bay area as well as the Kettle Falls Five in Washington state by name, although clearly this parry is meant to halt the broad prosecution of legal marijuana businesses in every state by federal authorities who are either acting directly or directing the work of state and local authorities.
“Cases such as [these] are all instances of DOJ expending dollars it does not have the legal authority to spend,” the letter continued. “Consequently, we believe there is sufficient cause for your office to investigate potential violations of the Anti-Deficiency Act by the Department with regard to its prosecution and other enforcement actions against persons and businesses conducting legitimate medical marijuana activities under state law.”
Reaction from the advocacy and business community to this development was swift. “The DEA is a law enforcement agency, and as such, they should respect the law and not violate it themselves,” said Kris Krane, Co-founder and Managing Partner of 4Front Advisors, which raises funds for legal marijuana startups. “The DEA and US Attorneys should immediately start obeying the law and drop all prosecutions and asset forfeiture proceedings against state legal marijuana businesses and patients.”
Others within the industry are also pleased that Congress is taking such a strong role in holding the DEA to task. Those on the front lines, for obvious reasons, do not want to be quoted by name, especially given the penchant of state and local police to target growers and activists who are also trying to help shape and regulate the industry. This is even more of a sore point in California right now where state and local forces moved in a coordinated fashion in the “Emerald Triangle” to bust growers this past June.
“The Task Force for years has stolen from, pillaged and terrorized growers—taking money, guns and valuables in their search for booty,” said one activist and grower. “They told a child that if he did not tell them where his father was that they would ‘shoot him when they found him.’ No one will talk about the Task Force. They are terrified.”