California Cops Should Stop Wasting Millions on Failed Medical Marijuana Cases

Does California Have Money to Burn on Failed Medical Marijuana Cases?

Up in Smoke, That's Where Taxpayer Money Goes... (Photo via Flickr Slow911)

In a country where everything good faces cutbacks or outright elimination, and everybody hates “big government” telling them how to live, how can a small, bankrupt city justify wasting millions of dollars on ultimately unsuccessful attempts to shut down medical cannabis dispensaries? And how can a large city whose citizens demonstrably support medical cannabis continue to target providers as even the federal government begins to back off?

Both questions have California residents shaking their heads as law enforcement continue to waste millions of dollars going after lawful medical cannabis activities. The cities of Vallejo and San Diego exemplify a story occurring across the state. In Vallejo, police have been wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on pot shop raids that led nowhere.

Local Vallejo law enforcement conducted at least seven separate raids of medical cannabis dispensaries in 2012. But then the DA dismissed all the resulting charges. In at least two cases, the collectives later took the city to court, eventually winning return of property suits.

“Vallejo has well documented lack of law enforcement resources and a high rate of violent crime relative to the rest of the county,” according to Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of National NORML and a full-time resident of the cash-strapped city, “so it was questionable to say the least to see the Vallejo Police Department prioritize targeting collectives that, ultimately, the District Attorney judged not to be engaged in activity that violated state law or posed a legitimate threat to public safety.

Meanwhile, in San Diego, Jovan Jackson's third trial for operating the city's Answerdam medical cannabis collective will begin in earnest later this month, after the Fourth District Court of Appeal reversed his earlier conviction—sending the case back to superior court to be retried. The appeals court ruling also established a significant, statewide precedent assuring medical cannabis collectives the right to defend themselves by claiming adherence to state law. Previously, many defendants in California (including Jackson) faced gag orders in court, preventing their defense from so much as mentioning medical cannabis.

Some law enforcement officials and prosecutors still believe there is no such thing and medical marijuana, and they are intent on wasting millions of taxpayer dollars in attempots to support those erroneous beleifs, watchers say.

“It seems as though there are these pockets of hostility where District Attorneys and even City Attorneys continue to rabidly go after dispensary operators, patients and caregivers who are attempting to produce, process and deliver marijuana to people in compliance with either local or state law,” says Kris Hermes, Media Specialist for national medical cannabis advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access. “In the case of San Diego, both the county and the city have had years to establish regulatory ordinance for medical cannabis and have failed to do so. The fact that Jovan Jackson is being tried for the third time is evidence of the length prosecutors will go to attain a conviction. And for what? We've already got a California Supreme Court decision legitimizing the sale of medical cannabis, including storefront dispensaries. So what are they trying to achieve? It certainly appears malicious, and it's costing the taxpayers a lot of money.”

The San Diego District Attorney's office declined an interview, citing a policy against commenting on pending cases. But according to retired LAPD Deputy Chief Stephen Downing of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an accurate assessment of this price tag must include not just money for raids and prosecutions, but also the opportunity costs of not devoting that time, effort and money to fighting actual crime.

“I recently spoke to an attorney who is handling the asset seizure of a building in which a medical marijuana dispensary was the target,” Downing says. “ In discovery he found that the local police department expended over two thousand man hours of investigative time. With no prosecution...It's all a major defrauding of the public.”According to an extensive study by Jeffrey Miron, a senior lecturer at Harvard University, marijuana prohibition currently costs US taxpayers $20 billion per year. Keep that in mind next time they cut funding at your kid's school.