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Marijuana advocates protest outside Lakewood Obama office

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A handful of marijuana reform advocates gathered on a sidewalk outside an Obama campaign office in Lakewood Thursday morning to draw attention to what they characterized as the Obama Administration’s aggressive use of federal law to interfere with the rights of medical marijuana businesses and patients in Colorado and elsewhere.

“Under Obama’s watch, staff members have been getting aggressive. We’re here to let patients know about the aggressive tactics of the Obama Administration,” said attorney Brian Vicente, executive director of Sensible Colorado.

Vicente said that when he was campaigning for president, Obama pledged to leave medical marijuana issues up to individual states but that since winning election the Department of Justice has been working to close dispensaries in Colorado and elsewhere.

“We’re just asking Obama to respect his campaign pledges,” said Vincent Palazzotto, executive director of the Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America.

Brian Vicente and Vincent Palazzotto talk about their disappointment in the Obama Administration’s handling of medical marijuana issues. (Kersgaard)

Vicente emphasized that he didn’t necessarily expect the eventual Republican nominee to be any better on this issue than Obama, though he noted that Ron Paul is an advocate of state’s rights on marijuana.“We just want people to be aware of what he has done. We want Obama to live up to his promises,” Vicente said.

The Obama campaign’s Colorado press secretary declined comment.

Vicente and others at the street-side gathering were particularly incensed about recent DOJ letters to 23 Colorado dispensaries that are operating legally under Colorado law, but which the federal government has determined are located too close to educational facilities. Dispensary owners were told to close or face the consequences.

Vicente and Palazzotto used the press conference to announce the launch of the Patient Voter Project, a joint effort of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), Sensible Colorado, Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation (SAFER), Medical Marijuana Assistance Program of America (MMAPA) and Just Say Now.

Vicente said the mission of the Patient Voter Project is to shine a light on the Obama administration’s behavior in the state and to keep medical marijuana patients and others up-to-date about the latest “hostile actions” being carried out by the administration.

“Our goal is simple,” said Vicente. “We want the Obama administration to end its attacks on legitimate and legal providers of medical marijuana and to trust the state of Colorado to regulate the industry in a thorough and competent manner, as it has done already. The people of this state, and especially medical marijuana patients, support the state-regulated medical marijuana system. They have no desire to have the medical marijuana market driven back underground. If the Obama administration prefers that medical marijuana be sold underground, it is our duty to explain that to the people of this state.”

“What the Obama administration is doing is wrong,” added Palazzotto. “As an organization dedicated to serving the needs of patients, we feel it is our responsibility to make the public aware of these unjust and unnecessary actions. Patients, and those who support them, need to know which elected officials are on their side and which ones are trying to deny patients safe access to their medicine.”

“Having had AIDS for almost twenty years, I’ve had more than my share of troubles and uncertainties,” said Damien LaGoy, a medical marijuana patient. “Now with President Obama’s recent efforts to shut down medical marijuana stores in Colorado, I have to live with the uncertainty of not knowing where — or if — I’ll be able to get my doctor-recommended medicine in the future. We need President Obama to respect Colorado voters and stop shutting down state-licenced medical marijuana stores in our state.”

LaGoy told the Colorado Independent that because of medical marijuana he has been able to gain weight and become healthier. He said the dispensary closed to where he lives is one of those targeted by the DOJ for closure.

Wanda James, a medical marijuana business owner, was not able to attend the press conference, but provided the following statement: “In 2008, I served on Barack Obama’s Colorado finance team and helped raise over $100,000 for his presidential bid. I now feel deceived by President Obama’s backpedaling on medical marijuana. The aggressive actions by his US Attorney in Colorado shows a great disrespect for our state’s voters, who both support medical marijuana and helped President Obama get elected.”

Also on Thursday, proponents of a statewide initiative to regulate marijuana like alcohol said they have collected more than 12,000 additional signatures to cure its petition to place a measure on the November ballot. Just over 2,400 additional valid signatures are needed.

Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler determined earlier this year that the group had not collected enough signature to make it on to the ballot in November.

The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will deliver the new petitions to the Secretary of State’s office Friday, and will first hold a news conference at which former two-term Republican governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson will endorse the initiative and discuss why he supports ending marijuana prohibition and regulating it like alcohol.

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