James Dean Stacy wants to tell the truth during his upcoming federal trial. Too bad the government won’t let him.
Last September, Stacy, founder of the “Movement in Action” medical marijuana collective in San Diego county, had his shop raided just weeks after opening by agents with the DEA, who discovered dozens of cannabis plants. He's facing federal drug charges as a result.
The arrest and prosecution have come despite pledges from President Obama, echoed by Attorney General Eric Holder, to respect state rules on medical marijuana -- a fact Stacy took to mean he was safe operating his collective so long as he was complying with California law. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical purposes.
But marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug by the federal government -- alongside heroin and cocaine -- meaning it is officially considered to have no medicinal value (the government’s own studies aside) possession is held to be illegal in all cases.
Over the summer federal District Court Judge Barry Moskowitz ruled that Stacy’s assumption Obama would put a stop to the controversial federal raids on pot dispensaries was “unreasonable” -- and inadmissible as evidence in his defense; an admission, perhaps, that one should never take a politician's words at face value. As for that law overwhelmingly passed by California voters in 1996 legalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal use? Stacy can’t mention that either. But he doesn’t hold it against Moskowitz.
“I kinda think the judge is pretty fair,” Stacy says in an interview with Change.org. “He’s done what the law has allowed him to do.” Indeed, medical marijuana patients have routinely been denied the opportunity to present the truth as evidence in their federal trials: that they were complying with a state law that explicitly legalized what they were doing.
The real disappointment, Stacy says, is that “the president and the attorney general haven’t stuck up for what they said they were going to do, and that they’re continuing to allow the DEA to keep raiding people.”
While the Justice Department issued a memo last October instructing federal law enforcement agencies to not pursue “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana,” more than two dozen dispensaries and collectives have since been raided. Just this month several dispensaries in Nevada were raided by the federal government, despite a 2000 state law legalizing the use of marijuana as medicine.
And federal agents appear to be picking what they see as easy targets.
There are more than 100 dispensaries in San Diego, and hundreds more in Los Angeles -- Oakland even has its own university dedicated to teaching the finer points of marijuana cultivation -- so why pursue a relatively obscure dispensary that had been open for only a matter of weeks, one might ask?
"They’re going after small people who can’t afford to hire these big fancy lawyers and trying to prosecute them," says Stacy. And there’s some evidence for that: another San Diego man whose dispensary was raided by the federal government the same day as Stacy’s collective pled guilty to drug charges rather than fight a protracted legal battle that other, more well-off defendants might have considered.
“I think the best we can hope for is just to tell the truth -- the part of the truth they’ll let us,” Stacy says. “Lucky for me I think I’ve got some really good lawyers in my public defenders.”
He also has advocates in Congress -- liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike.
In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI), Congressmen Sam Farr (D-CA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) note that Stacy is “the first individual to face federal prosecution under the Obama administration’s new policy” -- much ballyhooed, but not so much implemented -- on medical marijuana.
“Regardless of how scrupulous their compliance with state law and/or local ordinances, medical marijuana patients and their providers remain vulnerable to federal enforcement raids, arrest, and prosecution by U.S. Attorneys,” the congressmen write. “Worse still, these persons are barred from introducing evidence that demonstrates that he or she was acting in accordance with state law.”
The letter asks Conyers to hold a hearing on a bill that would attempt to fix the situation: the “Truth in Trials” act, or as it’s known in legislative speak, H.R. 3939. The proposal would “permit someone acting property under state medical marijuana laws to use that fact as an affirmative defense in federal court proceedings.”
Conyers is himself a cosponsor of the legislation, as are a total of 32 others, from liberal standard-bearers like Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Barney Frank (D-MA) to conservatives and libertarians such as Tom McClintock (R-CA) and Ron Paul (R-TX). However, a spokeswoman for the Judiciary Committee was unable to say whether he would ever hold a hearing on the bill. And spokesmen for Farr and Rohrabacher say the congressmen have received no response in the month since they sent their letter.
But the lawmakers are “still pushing the issue,” Tom Mentzer, press secretary for Congressman Farr, tells Change.org. “As more states legalize marijuana for medical use (and California potentially going even further), we’re only going to see more state/federal conflict and there will be an even greater need to offer a comprehensive defense during trial.”
“It remains an issue of fairness and an issue of state rights,” says Mentzer. “President Obama’s move to limit arrests for medical marijuana doesn’t change the need for a legislative fix.”
James Stacy’s trial begins November 1st. And though the odds -- and federal law -- are stacked against him, he remains hopeful he will ultimately win, whether he’s allowed to tell the complete truth or not. In the meantime, Stacy says those interested in helping his case should contact their congressman, ask them to support the Truth in Trials act, and demand Chairman Conyers -- a cosponsor of the bill -- finally hold hearings on the legislation. “That would just be the best thing I could think of.”
Tell your lawmaker to support the congressmen's proposal -- and demand that the House Judiciary Committee hold a hearing on this important legislation. It's time to lift the government's ban on the truth.