One of the country’s fiercest opponents of marijuana reform has quit her job prosecuting medical weed clinics, growers, and patients. Her departure is a major blow to anti-cannabis forces, especially in California.
Melinda Haag will step down as U.S. attorney for the San Francisco Bay Area. Haag announced her resignation in late July. She told staffers she would be gone as of Sept. 1 and said she planned to spend time with her family.
Haag gave no public reason for her decision to leave, but marijuana politics almost certainly played a role. She has defiantly refused orders from Congress and the president to back off her prosecutions of medical weed providers.
The state’s largest pot shop, the Harborside Health Center of Oakland, has long been in danger of closing because of a legal onslaught by Haag. She has successfully moved to seize millions of dollars in property from innocent providers around the Bay.
Haag heavily targeted medical marijuana providers
Haag’s bully tactics came under increased scrutiny after Congress passed repeated laws demanding the Obama administration stop targeting MMJ in states where it’s allowed. Obama signed those laws, but the Department of Justice has insisted it’s not bound by them.
The DOJ says that’s because criminal prosecutions don’t “interfere” with California’s ability to carry out its medical pot laws. The lawmakers behind the bills have refuted that argument and demanded that federal agencies honor the laws.
Haag was apparently instrumental in the DOJ’s anti-weed position. Her departure may signal that that position is changing, if slowly. Obama has handed down several orders directing federal agencies to take a less restrictive approach to cannabis.
Haag served as the head of the white collar division for her office before Obama appointed her U.S. attorney in 2010. She quickly developed a reputation as a notorious enforcer of federal anti-weed laws.
Federal statutes used to shut down medical dispensaries
Marijuana is legal for medical use in California, and has been since 1996. But Haag and her minions used federal statutes to shut down dispensaries and growers across a large swath of Northern California. At times she teamed up with her counterparts in other areas of California to stop medical pot providers.
Haag moved against dispensaries by threatening to seize property from landlords who rented to them. That forced hundreds of small pot shops to shut their doors and left countless patients without access to their medicine.
The White House has yet to announce a replacement for Haag, but it’s unlikely Obama will appoint another hardliner on his way out of office. He has already made it clear he supports at least some reform, and the fight to keep Harborside and other dispensaries running has only gained steam.
Haag’s resignation could be a big victory for the pro-pot crowd. She has long been viewed as a critical problem for advocates and entrepreneurs. Without her, reform should spread even faster.