Wes Woods II, Staff Writer
Created: 10/31/2011 03:13:41 PM PDT

When Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, many local medical marijuana proponents felt they finally had a friend in the White House.

How times have changed.

Many of those same proponents now decry Obama and his administration for the heavy hand they have placed on medical marijuana dispensaries and cooperatives in California.

“Definitely all cannabis patients, all advocates who believed Obama wouldn’t take away state access rights would certainly feel that way,” said Jan Werner, vice president of The Clearview Lake Corp., which runs marijuana collectives in Bloomington and Corona.

The proponents’ ire was most recently stirred Oct. 7 when California’s four U.S. attorneys announced they were shutting down certain medical marijuana dispensaries. Owners and landlords were also warned that they would face criminal charges or seizure of their property if they didn’t comply.

The announcement to stop retail sales of marijuana and its cultivation came despite Proposition 215, the Golden State’s medical marijuana law. The 1996 law approved medical cannabis in the state.

“I spent thousands of hours to get him elected,” said Abel Chapa, president of the nonprofit San Bernardino Patients Association and Foundation for Alternative Medicine Research.

“He said, `Hands off the medical marijuana patients.’ He’s a straight-up liar.”

Relationship started strong

Proponents’ dismay with Obama has not been a consistent presence during the entirety of his presidency.

Chapa and others expressed high hopes when U.S. Attorney Eric Holder in late 2009 issued a memo indicating United States attorneys should not use investigative resources on prosecuting “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance” with laws in 16 states that allow medical marijuana – including California.

The announcement fulfilled a campaign pledge by Obama who promised to end the federal raids on state medical marijuana patients and their caregivers.

“I don’t think that should be a top priority of us, raiding people who are using … medical marijuana,” said Obama in June 2007 at a town hall meeting in Laconia, N.H.

“With all the things we’ve got to worry about, and our Justice Department should be doing, that probably shouldn’t be a high priority.”

But those hopes were dashed with last month’s federal crackdown.

“President Obama prides himself on getting people to solve differences,” said Lanny Swerdlow, a Riverside County marijuana activist and radio host. “Well, no one talked to the patients. He just sent the feds.”

Medical marijuana supporters have also been angered by the Internal Revenue Service disallowing business expenses related to running pot shops because of their connection to the illegal sale of drugs, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives saying it’s illegal to sell guns to medical marijuana users.

Officials from the Department of Justice did not respond to emails for comment.

But Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said Obama’s policy had not changed and marijuana remains an illegal controlled substance according to the law.

“Federal government remains a supporter on research on which components of the marijuana plant can be used as modern medicine,” Lemaitre said. “The FDA was created 100 years ago to ensure medicines reach the marketplace safe and effectively. We want to protect public safety. To date, the FDA has not found the smoked form of marijuana to be safe or effective.”

Lawmakers defend dispensary

But proponents may not be totally friendless in Washington, D.C.

On Friday, nine members of the House of Representatives – seven Democrats and one Republican from California as well as Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen – penned a letter to Obama condemning the Justice Department’s crackdown on the medical marijuana industry in California.

Holder’s promise to be more hands-off with dispensaries that were complying with state law was also mentioned in the letter.

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