GAO pillories DOJ marijuana law enforcement

Feb 01, 16 GAO pillories DOJ marijuana law enforcement

The U.S. Justice Department has failed to track marijuana’s impact on the nation and specific states where the drug has been sanctioned, according to a report examining marijuana law enforcement and released by the independent, nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. The report — headlined, “DOJ Should Document Its Approach to Monitoring the Effects of Legalization” — also calls on the DOJ to implement a specific plan to conduct and report such monitoring.

The GAO report was requested by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, and U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa. It notes the DOJ has not “documented their monitoring process or provided specificity about key aspects of it[.]” When asked how well the DOJ has tracked the enforcement priorities it outlined in 2013 for states that have sanctioned marijuana use, the lead author of the GAO report didn’t mince words: “It’s hard to tell because the DOJ has not documented its plan for monitoring the effects of the state marijuana legalization.”

The DOJ’s eight stated enforcement priorities — several of which already were compromised in Colorado the day the agency issued them:

DOJ_Enforcement_Priorities

“The lack of accountability of the marijuana industry has been astonishing,” said former U.S. Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, who cofounded Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a nonprofit organization that opposes marijuana legalization and advocates for marijuana policies rooted in responsible science (Dr. Christian Thurstone, whose website you’re reading, serves as a medical advisor to the group.)

“From day one, they have put profits ahead of our health and safety,” Mr. Kennedy added. “They spend millions lobbying against regulations on advertising that targets children, and rules keeping pot shops away from schools and daycare centers. They flood the market with pot candies and sodas that poison children as young as 5 years old. That’s why I applaud Senators Feinstein and Grassley for requesting this report, and thank GAO for its thorough work. I hope it serves as a call to immediate action.”

Read more from Aug. 29, 2013: The day former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the DOJ’s “trust-but-verify” approach to enforcement, Dr. Christian Thurstone wrote: “In Colorado, we’re already verifying what Justice Department officials failed even to acknowledge today — and appear to know very little about. It is very sad that the truth of this drug’s impact on the public, on families and on individuals has fallen so far behind the marijuana industry’s marketing muscle and big-moneyed political influence. But at least that truth already is emerging — and we have plenty of data to show the Justice Department, the Surgeon General and officials at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control, the National Institutes on Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.”

The GAO report also highlights unusual attitudes and behavior by DOJ officials concerning monitoring of the agency’s own priorities concerning marijuana, including that:

  • “[O]fficials reported that they did not see a benefit in DOJ documenting how it would monitor the effects of state marijuana legalization relative to the August 2013 [Office of the Deputy Attorney General] guidance,”
  • DOJ field offices “do not consistently enter information” in a “key source of information for monitoring,” thus ensuring that the database “would not provide reliable information regarding the extent of marijuana-related cases,” and
  • DEA and DOJ officials from California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington reported that they had not sent warning letters to owners and lien holders of medical marijuana dispensaries since DOJ issued August 2013 guidance on marijuana.

SAM supporters’ on the DOJ’s approach to marijuana law enforcement

From Colorado: “Already, our state agencies are compromised because of their coziness with Big Marijuana,” said Jo McGuire, co-chairperson of Colorado SAM. “We’re unprepared to monitor outcomes on our own. This report confirms our worst fears that the Feds have been looking the other way while we have been dealing with the consequences.” In a recent perspective series detailing marijuana’s impact on the state of Colorado, The (Colorado Springs) Gazette’s Editorial Board drew attention to Colorado’s lacking data collection here, here, and here (Disclosure: This journalist is a co-author of the Gazette series.).

From Oregon: “Knowing that only lip service is being paid to our situation out here – which includes the new marijuana industry spending thousands of dollars on lobbying for rules that are beneficial to them – is more than just a little disheartening. It’s outrageous,” said Randy Philbrick, chairman of SAM Oregon.

From Washington State: “The DOJ’s failure to monitor has given free rein to the marijuana industry’s disregard for Washington State laws,” said Derek Franklin, president of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention. “As a result, illegal, black-market dispensaries and home delivery businesses are flourishing, and pot lobbyists are pushing to expand availability closer to schools and parks. It’s a free-for-all.”

Christine Tatum is Dr. T’s wife and the co-author of the recently released book, Clearing the Haze: Helping Families Face Teen Addiction. She is also a longtime journalist who has served as a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune and The Denver Post and as a former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists. She now contributes to the editorial board of The Gazette in Colorado Springs.

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