Published on Alternet (http://www.alternet.org)
Online Publishing Company  / By Barry Scott Sussman 
10 Years in Prison for Legally Growing Medical Pot? The Feds' Insane Assault on Perfectly Legal Activity
October 9, 2012
As President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign gears up for its final push, his Department of Justice (DOJ) is aggressively pursuing medical marijuana cases in direct contravention of earlier pronouncements on the issue. Federal prosecutors are taking advantage of election season politics by gambling that the White House will not stand in their way and appear to look soft on crime at this critical juncture. Their well-times aggression is just another example of gaming the system and ringing-up meaningless prosecutions which serve no purpose other than padding the resumes of federal prosecutors. It is far afield from their mission statement and self-professed duty to protect the public.
The latest victims of this nationwide attack were a father and son in Monroe County, Michigan, Gerald Duval, Jr. and his son, Jeremy. They were convicted at trial in a federal case that centered on their growing medical marijuana in greenhouses. Gerald’s sentencing hearing was held on October 1 in federal court in Detroit. USDJ David Lawson handed down a 10 year sentence of which 87.5% will have to be served before the senior Duval is eligible for release. In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutors claimed that the Duvals “shamelessly exploited” Michigan’s medical marijuana law to try and get around the federal prohibition on marijuana. The prosecutors’ memorandum recommended an even longer sentence of 16 years for the Duvals’ decision to follow the state of Michigan’s medical marijuana law.
The federal prosecutors on the case chose interesting language in their pleas for a lengthy sentence. Equating adherence to a state law with which they disagree to shameless exploitation speaks volumes about the legal wrangling in which the prosecutors are engaging. The fact that the defendants were operating lawfully under the Michigan medical marijuana statute is completely removed from the equation. In almost all of these cases, jurors are prohibited from hearing any testimony regarding the laws of the state. The defense may not raise the issue because, in short, the state laws are not a valid defense upon which the accused can rebut the federal charges. That the accused believed they were in full compliance with state law and unaware of a conflict with federal drug statutes is of no moment. All the jurors are permitted to hear is the various ways the defendant violated federal law. The accused’s strict adherence to the state’s medical marijuana law is deceptively omitted from the proceedings.
“The Duvals’ case is another tragedy from President Obama’s war on medical marijuana,” said Steph Sherer, Executive Director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a leading medical marijuana advocacy group. “This type of enforcement is unnecessary and far from the public health approach that medical marijuana patients deserve.” A press release from ASA cites the fact that accused medical marijuana caregivers have “no chance of defending themselves against federal law.”
The ASA is particularly troubled by this latest round of prosecutions. Sherer further criticized the Obama administration’s handling of this issue by stating, “The federal raids and prosecutions in Michigan are unfortunately only an example of the broader aggressive campaign by the Obama administration to undermine state medical marijuana laws.” Sherer noted earlier claims by Obama that he was “not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws.” Despite this promise, the DOJ under Obama has conducted more than 200 SWAT-style raids and indicted in excess of 70 medical marijuana providers. In these raids, DEA agents typically assault the targeted premises wearing full body armor and brandishing machine guns in an effort to intimidate their victims into submission. This is nothing less than state-sponsored violence against a targeted segment of the populace.
In order to understand this latest assault on the citizenry, one must closely examine the motives of the prosecutors pursuing these cases. These are relatively easy cases to bring. Federal prosecutors are being handed virtual “slam dunks” by states which enact medical marijuana laws because they all begin with the premise that regardless of what the state may permit, federal law is being violated. One might think that with the alleged abundance of criminal activity that exists within the US, there would be more urgent matters to pursue. Federal prosecutors are quick to offer the familiar refrain that prosecution is a limited resource and must be applied where it most needed. Yet there appears to be an abundance of prosecutorial resources available for these seemingly benign matters.
When the DOJ goes before Congress seeking increased funding, they are fond of citing year over year increases in prosecutions and convictions. Few lawmakers, if any, delve into the quality of those prosecutions. For statistical purposes, medical marijuana convictions serve the US attorneys as well as do convictions for serious, major crimes. The same is true for the resumes of individual prosecutors. Racking-up convictions and lengthy sentences is what is required for federal prosecutors to put themselves on the fast track for advancement up the judicial corporate ladder. The hallmark of their sociopathy is the inability to recognize that their careers are being furthered on the bodies of others.
The current assault on medical marijuana providers extends far beyond the case of Gerald and Jeremy Duval. On September, 27, a federal jury in Helena, Montana convicted Chris Williams of eight charges including conspiracy to manufacture, possess and distribute marijuana. Williams was originally charged in 2011 when federal agents from the DEA raided the Montana Cannabis’ Helena greenhouse which was operating lawfully under Montana state law. It was the largest of 26 medical marijuana businesses raided in one day across the state of Montana. As with the Duvals, Williams was precluded from arguing that he was fully compliant with state law. His judge, USDJ Dana Christensen, agreed with federal prosecutors who said that state law is irrelevant in matters involving the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Williams was taken into custody immediately after the verdict was announced. He faces decades in prison under federal mandatory minimum sentencing and a maximum sentence which could be life in prison without the possibility of parole. “It’s a tragedy,” said Chris Lindsey, president of the Montana Cannabis Industry Association (MTCIA) and former partner of Williams. “Federal law needs to change and respect the wishes of the citizens, who overwhelmingly favor the availability of medical marijuana for those in need. Federal law makes no allowance for it, and Mr. Williams will pay a heavy price for the government’s refusal to bend to the will of voters in Montana and around the country.”
Lindsey went on to cite how the jury was prohibited from hearing that Williams’ acts were in compliance with state law. “It is sad that Chris was tried for what he did and for what he believed in, but he couldn’t actually talk about what happened with the jury,” said Lindsey. “They didn’t get the whole story because of the way criminal trials are run. Chris and his attorney did the best they could to get their story in front of the jury, but the system doesn’t allow it.”
Lindsey went on to cite the issue of compliance with state law. “I think it’s a tragedy, I mean it was something that we were trying to comply with state law, thought we were, but the federal government of course has not changed its position on marijuana and they don’t really care that it’s medical marijuana. How do we deal with the fact that most Americans believe that medical marijuana should have its role and how do we reconcile that with the fact that the federal government absolutely refuses to acknowledge publicly that marijuana has any role?”
Also commenting on the Williams verdict was Montana First, an organization devoted to bringing “sanity” to Montana’s marijuana laws. Spokesperson Bob Brighton reacted to the verdict by saying, “One thing is crystal clear, our nation’s failed so-called War on Drugs must end, particularly where medical marijuana is concerned in states whose voters and legislators have endorsed it.”
From the perspective of federal prosecutors, however, the War on Drugs is anything but a failure. Rather, it is the gift that keeps on giving. It provides justification for their ongoing aggression and offers a virtually limitless pool of targets for prosecution. Compliant media enablers, who often serve as mere stenographers instead of reporters, can be counted upon to disseminate government press releases thinly disguised as news items. Truly objective accounts of this ongoing war, which is in all actuality a war against the people, are largely absent. The success of this disinformation campaign is evidenced by President Obama’s reticence to reel in his Justice Department during this campaign season.
Assemble a group of result oriented, get ahead at any cost prosecutors, give them virtually limitless power, and the results are fairly predicable. It should be a surprise to no one that they would wage war against the very people they have been entrusted to protect in order to advance their own careers. The recent round of attacks against medical marijuana providers is merely the latest incarnation of a problem that has been festering for years. What is certain is that when this pool of low-hanging fruit is exhausted, these same prosecutors will simply set their sights on another group of ready-made targets.
Ultimately, this is the real story. It has little to do with medical marijuana or any other alleged offense. There is a highly destructive force at work that actively seeks new targets and is committed to eviscerating everything in its path, all for self-advancement. They justify their actions by bandying about words like “truth” and “justice,” but then work overtime to conceal relevant facts from jurors and ultimately the same public they allegedly serve. This embracement of deception is rooted in a twisted belief that their work is too important to be burdened with unnecessary rules or restrictions that are applicable only to others. For those medical marijuana caregivers now facing lengthy terms in federal prison, it is a tragic lesson in what can happen when those in positions of power subvert laws with which they disagree in a self-serving belief that the end justifying the means.
Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/drugs/10-years-prison-legally-growing-medical-pot-feds-insane-assault-perfectly-legal-activity
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