In case you hadn’t noticed, the half century long war on marijuana and the five decades long crackdown on motorcycle clubs intersected last week in South Carolina. Welcome back to 1968.
If there is a context to the latest round of biker pot busts it is the increasing irrelevancy of the labels “liberal” and “conservative” in American political discourse. The Obama Administration, which is generally praised on the left and vilified on the right for being “liberal” has in fact been one of the most repressive political regimes in American History. Since taking office, the President and his apparatchiks have beefed up the domestic “war rooms” and “fusion centers” that spy on citizens, opposed limits on internet spying and personal computer searches, grown the prison population, bought tens of thousands of police departments billions of dollars worth of war toys and expanded the war on drugs. During the same time the current Administration has either directly or indirectly brought numerous racketeering cases against motorcycle clubs.
The recent federal war on marijuana growers and sellers may help to make the point argued here.
South Carolina Pot Bust
Last week, hundreds of police in the general vicinity of Myrtle Beach put on their soldier suits, picked up their machine guns and climbed into their tanks to raid 11 locations and attempt to arrest 34 people alleged to have participated in “the cultivation, distribution and trafficking of marijuana involving the local chapters of the Hells Angels organization.” The raids culminated an investigation that began in December 2010 and was cutely called Operation Red Harvest. Police describe the investigation as “ongoing” — as if there is any other kind of federal investigation.
Among those arrested were two officers and a prospect of the Hells Angels Myrtle Beach charter and alleged members of the Red Devils Motorcycle Club. The undisputed notion behind Operation Red Harvest was to use marijuana laws to punish members of the Hells Angels for being Hells Angels. At a news conference trumpeting the event, Myrtle Beach Police Chief Saundra Rhodes bragged, “We believe this will have a significant impact on the Hells Angels.”
The local district attorney, Greg Hembree, told reporters “It’s going to take up a lot of their time and energy and resources to defend these charges.”
Charges against the accused include marijuana trafficking, marijuana manufacturing, sale and possession of marijuana, kidnapping, tattooing, assault by mob and assault and battery.
Meanwhile, while marijuana is completely illegal in South Carolina, so called medical marijuana is still legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia. In most states, people may legally grow, buy and use marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. In 2009 President Obama, who has spoken frankly about his habituation to weed, promised that federal police would stop prosecutions against medical marijuana dispensaries in those states that had legalized its use. “What I’m not going to be doing is using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue,” he promised during his campaign.
Last October the administration reversed itself after the Justice Department distributed a memo that called marijuana a “mortal danger” and stated that “medical marijuana is not medicine.” Federal attorneys in California began filing asset forfeiture lawsuits and criminal complaints against marijuana outlets throughout the Golden State. The rational behind the crackdown was that after two years Administration officials had made the startling discovery that many people were buying medical marijuana because they liked to smoke marijuana. The crackdown soon spread to Colorado.
There was another round of forfeiture filings and criminal charges in January when both the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service stepped up raids on California marijuana dispensaries. The DEA was formed by President Nixon to prosecute marijuana sellers and users. The IRS has now begun disallowing standard business deductions for marijuana dispensaries and is prosecuting stores and growers who do.
Last month, DEA and IRS agents raided a business called Oaksterdam University in Oakland and residences of several people involved with the business. The business is run by a medical marijuana advocate named Richard Lee. The business offered classes in growing high quality marijuana. A month later, the warrants remain sealed.
The Beat Goes On
Last week the President told Rolling Stone that people who thought he was going to deemphasize marijuana prosecutions had simply not parsed his political rhetoric finely enough. “What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana,” Obama told Hunter Thompson’s former employer. Last Thursday the Democrat’s leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, told the President she was concerned about the marijuana crackdown.
That same day, the U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California issued a press release that began:
“In the latest series of actions against the commercial marijuana industry in California, federal authorities this week filed three asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing marijuana operations in Santa Barbara County, executed search warrants at four locations, and have sent warning letters to people associated with 10 other illegal marijuana stores in the county.
“Three civil asset forfeiture complaints were filed yesterday afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles against properties in Santa Barbara and Summerland where marijuana is being grown or marijuana stores are currently operating. Prosecutors yesterday also sent letters to marijuana store operators and the owners of buildings where 10 marijuana stores currently operate in Goleta, Summerland and Santa Barbara.”
Obviously the President has decided to use “Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue” because the police haven’t got anything else to do. Without a new campaign to stamp out use of the devil’s weed some police may have to be let go. And three years into the “economic recovery” the employment statistics are already bad enough.