Feds say pot shops illegal
If it were up to the federal government, marijuana distribution stores such as the one operated by Jim Henry in Colfax would be shut down permanently.
Actually, it is up to the feds, according to a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday. The vote sent a resounding message to California and eight other states that allow medical marijuana: Our laws trump yours.
The house voted to let the federal government continue prosecuting people who use marijuana for medical reasons in those states. The 268-148 vote turned aside an amendment by Democrats and some Republicans that would have barred the federal government from preventing states from implementing their own medical marijuana laws.
“I will be damned if I stop selling medicine,” said Henry, owner of Golden State Patient Care Collective. “I am ashamed of (the government) for that. We help sick people. Some of these people will be dead in six months. They would be dead in three months if it wasn’t for medical marijuana.”
California is one of nine states that have passed laws allowing people to use marijuana if recommended by a doctor. The others are Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.
Supporters of the federal restrictions said that constitutionally, federal statutes override state laws.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Richard Meyer, based in San Francisco, told The Union his department does not alter its approach to suit state and local laws.
California’s Proposition 215 allows medical marijuana to be grown and possessed, but not sold. Meyer said that although using marijuana is illegal under federal law, the DEA only actively pursues dealers, not users.
Stores such as Henry’s shop in Colfax are “a blatant violation of the law,” Meyer said.
Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled the federal law outlawing marijuana should not apply to people using the drug on a doctor’s recommendation. The Bush administration appealed that decision – which only covers the western states in the 9th Circuit – saying federal anti-drug laws supersede state laws.
“What a waste of money going after these shops,” Henry said. “Not one person in this community has said anything negative (about the store).”
Henry said his store has about 250 active members and that the numbers grow every month. He said about half of his clients come from Nevada County. He said he worries about losing the store and facing prosecution every day, but that he continues on because it is the right thing to do.
“Yes, there is risk,” he said. “But the benefits of helping (clients) outweighs the risks.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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