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DEA to answer queries on med-pot raids locally, statewide

By: Roger Phelps The Telegraph
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A federal lawmaker concerned with medical-marijuana raids in El Dorado, Sacramento and Placer counties has forced Drug Enforcement Administration officials to answer questions in writing. The written response could serve to prevent live Congressional hearings on the propriety of the raids. U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has fielded numerous complaints and requests for hearings on the matter, according to Conyers' April 29 letter to the DEA. DEA spokesman Randy Payne said acting Director Michele Leonhart will answer Conyers' questions, which generally ask for a cost-benefit analysis on the California raids. "We will respond to the congressman's request -- it is imminent," Payne said. Payne said he could not provide details until Conyers has the response. Federal drug convictions have come against a total of five area residents, and many more statewide, who claimed protection under the California Compassionate Use Act. The 1996 voter initiative legalized growing marijuana for use by medical patients. Around the state, a total of around 60 additional raids are also of concern, according to Conyers' letter. Conyers requested a DEA response by July 1, and will get it, Payne said. "I am writing to you because I have received a number of letters from Californians, including mayors and city councils, expressing concerns about DEA enforcement tactics, and urging me to hold oversight hearings in the Judiciary Committee," Conyers wrote to Leonhart. "Please provide an accounting of the costs, in dollars and resources, used to conduct law-enforcement raids on the attached list of individuals." He also questioned allocation of DEA resources away from combating the domestic effects of international drug cartels. DEA officials have maintained the federal Controlled Substances Act "trumps" California's voter-passed legalization of medical marijuana. Controversy has existed since Prop. 215 passed in 1996. A joint California Assembly and Senate Resolution of Jan. 10 reads in part, "The Legislature respectfully memorializes the President of the United States and the Congress to enact legislation to require the Drug Enforcement Agency and all other federal agencies ad departments to respect the compassionate-use laws of states." Payne said DEA's general response to such requests is that it is DEA's "job to enforce laws -- we don't apologize for it." Elaine Roller, a volunteer at Medical Marijuana Caregivers of El Dorado County, said she was pleased the DEA will respond to Conyers. "What he wants is answers -- 'Can you justify this money? For raids? For court time?'" Roller said. "This congressman has stood up and spoken the truth." Conyers' vocal opposition to several policies of the George W. Bush administration is well publicized. Conyers May 30 said he supported a nationwide movement for Bush's impeachment. If Conyers elects to call hearings of the House Judiciary Committee on the raids, DEA officials could be required to testify. The DEA's response might or might not work to prevent House committee hearings, said Jonathan Godfrey, Judiciary Committee spokesman. "I'm not sure we'll know until we see the response," Godfrey said. The Telegraph’s Roger Phelps can be reached at rogerp@goldcountrymedia.com, or post a comment at folsomtelegraph.com