BACKGROUND: On October 7, 2011, at a press conference in Sacramento, US Attorney Laura Duffy, along with several other US Attorneys, announced a statewide crackdown on medical cannabis cooperatives, collectives, gardens, and others.
Without citing any specific violations in state law, Duffy’s office claimed all were out of compliance and would be targeted for eradication including those fully licensed and regulated by local government and law enforcement.
Since this proclamation of war on California’s medical marijuana program, Duffy’s office sent hundreds of letters to landlords threatening asset forfeiture if they did not immediately evict their dispensary tenants. As a result of these backhanded tactics, many landlords were forced to comply. Within six months, Duffy closed over 200 dispensaries in San Diego alone.
These closures forced thousands of employees into unemployment, left hundreds of properties vacant and most importantly, left the 70,000 plus medical marijuana patients in San Diego county wondering where to get their medicine.
Duffy’s war did not stop with just closures of collectives and cooperatives. With her next move, she focused on local governments. After learning that advocates had gathered enough signatures to place initiatives to regulate dispensaries on several local ballots in the county, she began threatening council members and city staff with federal prosecution for writing laws to regulate safe access.
Duffy’s actions, as well as those of other US Attorneys across the state, are in stark contrast to what President Obama and the Department of Justice are saying.
During his election in 2008, Candidate Obama promised he would not use Justice Department resources to target those in compliance with state law, and his administration publicly maintains this position. In addition, as recently as June, Attorney General Eric Holder, Duffy’s boss, testified before Congress that his Justice Department would only undertake enforcement action against medical marijuana organizations operating “out of conformity with state law.”
Under President Obama’s Justice Department’s asset forfeiture fund has grown from $500 million in 2003 to $1.8 billion in 2011 with $79 million going directly to California law enforcement agencies.
Since October of last year advocates have worked tirelessly, using traditional means to fight against these attacks and to bring media attention to the issue. Lawsuits have been filed, letter drives organized, petitions signed, protests held, letters to editors written— yet nothing has worked. In fact, in San Diego the attacks seem to be getting worse and it was clear that something more radical had to be done.
How San Diego ASA Got Involved in the Action:
San Diego Chapter of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s largest medical cannabis advocacy group, working with LGBT activism group Canvass for a Cause, received a letter from the San Diego Museum of Art last month, inviting both groups to participate to participate in The Yes Men’s “Yes Labs” workshop organized by the museum as part of theirSummer Salon Series program.
The goal of the workshop as the email explained was, “to identify a concrete, media attention grabbing idea and then figure out an approach towards making it come to fruition.”
Upon accepting the invitation, another email from the museum asked San Diego ASA to have at least a few hundred dollars available to turn the project into a reality.
The next email read, “Despite the fact that the museum provides you with The Yes Men, the space, and meals, we do not want this cost to be a deterrent. Therefore, the Museum will contribute $100 in seed money to get you on your way.”
The workshop was scheduled for July 23rd and 24th at Agitprop, an art gallery in North Park.
The opportunity to execute an action holding Duffy accountable with help from The Yes Men and with the support of local arts community, could not have come at a more appropriate time. Not only were advocates looking for new summer activities to take on as part of Americans for Safe Access summer program www.CampWakeUpObama.
The workshop began with introductions and an awe inspiring presentation of previous artistic actions organized by ‘The Yes Men’. The day then shifted into group discussions of causes everyone cared about and actions that could be taken right here in San Diego in support of those causes.
After a few brainstorming sessions the group reached consensus to focus on the medical cannabis issue first. A plan was hashed out and Tuesday July 31st was set as the day of action. It became clear that through satire and art the chapter would bring attention to Duffy’s reign of terror.
The plan was that a series of satirical press releases would be issued to media first claiming Duffy would target pharmacies for closure using asset forfeiture proceedings, similar to her track record with medical marijuana dispensaries, followed by another press release from Duffy claiming the first was a hoax and the perpetrators would be prosecuted. Then, a fake organization called FAC – the Federal Accountability Coalition would take credit for both satirical releases. Finally, the real advocates behind the project would step forward and claim responsibility in a fourth an final release.
The Day of the Action:
On July 31st, a command center was set up in the heart of Hillcrest. The day began at 7:04am with the first press release sent to the media from laura.duffy@
Full Text of 1st Release: Duffy Goes After Pharmacies
OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
San Diego, California
United States Attorney
Laura E. Duffy
For Further Information, Contact: Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Shiner (619) 619-302-5235
For Immediate Release
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY PUTS PHARMACY OPERATORS AND PROPERTY OWNERS ON NOTICE
Curbing illegal drug use via shutdowns will keep communities safe.
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – July 31, 2012
United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy today announced enforcement actions against local pharmacies for distribution of drugs for illegal purposes. Immediate enforcement will target pharmacies in the Coastal areas of La Jolla, Carmel Valley, and Pacific Beach; chosen for both the high rates of pharmaceutical drug abuse and high property values of targeted pharmacies. Affected pharmacies will have 45 days to shutdown in order to avoid harsher penalties.
The Pharmaceutical shutdown initiative is aimed at curtailing drug abuse and its associated societal problems in the Southern District of California. Enforcement is proceeding against twenty pharmacies in San Diego County and will include actions such as:
Civil forfeiture lawsuits against properties involved in drug trafficking activity, which includes, in some cases, sales consistent with state or local ordinances;
Letters of warning to the owners and lien holders of properties where potentially illegal sales are taking place; and
Criminal cases targeting commercial pharmaceutical activities.
“These pharmacies are not only about providing medicine to the sick. They are part of a pervasive for-profit industry that facilitates the distribution of drugs for illegitimate use. Doctors are prescribing unneeded medication; kids are overdosing on aspirin; police are finding pill bottles at junior high schools. Addiction and abuse of these drugs are serious problems in our communities and parents have come to me with their concerns. These pharmacies have provided not just medication – prescription and otherwise – but all the serious repercussions that come with it, including significant public safety issues and often irreparable harm to our youth.” said Duffy.
The Southern District of California will be the first in the nation to confront the problems associated with drug abuse by targeting storefront pharmacies with asset forfeiture proceedings. The operation will also be a model of fiscal discipline as asset forfeiture may render enforcement efforts cost-neutral. If successful in San Diego, Duffy’s office will lobby for the implementation of this policy throughout the United States.
“Prosecutorial discretion means I decide how and when to enforce laws. Although this action is unprecedented, in my judgment it’s necessary to ensure we continue making progress in the war on drugs. Economic decline, climate threats, cybercrime, illegal immigration, and a general loss of faith in the political process have colored these drastic times. Now is the time to get tough in a fiscally responsible way.” Duffy stated.
Asset forfeiture is the seizure of property found to have been used for an illegal purpose. The tactic has been used to nearly end access to medical marijuana in San Diego. In 2011, the Southern District of California seized $29.7 million in property using asset forfeiture.
Though initially only twenty pharmacies will be targeted for closure, the office of the United States Attorney for the Southern District of California will continue to investigate facilities which illegally provide dangerous substances to our communities.
For Press Inquiries contact: Frank Shiner, Deputy Assistant to the US Attorney, Logistics and Narcotics – (619) 302-5235
At 7:34am, local San Diego CityBeat reporter Dave Maass, tweeted: “I wonder if the real looking press release I got from a fake looking email might be a product of The Yes Men workshop with mmj activists.” (@DaveMaass).
While other media outlets, including the LA Times, were digesting the first release and trying to understand which pharmacies were being targeted, an actor playing ‘Deputy US Attorney of Narcotics and Logistics, Mr. Shiner’ (a name selected randomly) was available by phone to answer questions.
“Yes we are shutting them down,” said Shiner while answering one of the calls, “Prosecutorial discretion means Duffy decides how and when to enforce laws”.
In the hour following the first release and while ‘Mr. Shiner’ was answering inquiries from media, several Cease and Desist notices were posted by actors at five pharmacies in town. Although the fake press release said twenty locations were being targeted, only five actual notices were posted on the front doors of pharmacies.
Full Text of the Pharmacy Cease and Desist Notices
Dear Pharmacy Owner/Operator:
This office has been advised by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that there is a pharmacy operating under the name “CVS Pharmacy,” at the real property located at [address, APN], which is property you own or have under your management or control. This letter serves as formal notice to you that the pharmacy’s operations violate United States law and that the violations of federal law relating to the pharmacy’s operations on your property may result in criminal prosecution, imprisonment, fines, and forfeiture of assets, including the real property on which the pharmacy is operating, and any money you receive (or have received).
This pharmacy is located in a designated “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area” where operations involving illegal sales and distribution of drugs are subject to criminal prosecution and civil enforcement actions (Title 21, United States Code, Section 1706). Property involved in such operations, including real property, is subject to seizure by and forfeiture to the United States. Specifically, Title 21, United States Code, Section 881(a)(7) provides:
The following shall be subject to forfeiture to the United States and no property right shall exist in them. All real property, including any right, title, and interest (including any leasehold interest) in the whole of any lot or tract of land which is used in any leasehold interest) in the whole of any lot or tract of land which is used in any manner or part, to commit, or to facilitate the commission of, a violation of this sub-chapter.
Your prompt attention to this matter is strongly advised. Please take the necessary steps to discontinue the sale and/or distribution of illegal drugs at the above-referenced location within 45 days of this letter.
You may wish to seek independent legal advice concerning this matter. Please direct any inquiries to the United States Attorney Office.
Very truly yours,
Laura E. Duffy, United States Attorney
Prior to the second release going out, several news outlets including the LA Times published the story of Duffy’s attack on pharmacies, actually believing the first release.
At 9:50am, the second release went out., this time from firstname.lastname@example.org
Full Text of 2nd Release: Duffy Exposes the Pharmacy Shutdown as Hoax
OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
San Diego, California
United States Attorney
Laura E. Duffy
For Further Information, Contact: Press Secretary Steven T. Fredrickson (619) 619-306-2854
For Immediate Release NOTICE: “PHARMACY” SHUT DOWN A HOAX
NEWS RELEASE SUMMARY – July 31, 2012
United States Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced that unknown individuals have forged documents claiming that this office has initiated a shut down pharmacies in the coastal areas of San Diego County. Many in the community have expressed outrage over the perceived imposition of our department on the rights of San Diego patients to receive their medication.
The U.S. Attorney’s office would like to assure the public that these reports are completely false. The office of the U.S. Attorney fully intends to find these perpetrators and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. This feeble attempt to defame her character is clearly an action committed by a group with nothing better to do than waste the time of the media, the people, and, most importantly the office of the U.S. Attorney.
The claims of the false press release sent out hours earlier are completely outrageous. In no way does the office of the U.S. Attorney plan to forfeit the assets of pharmacies as is done with illegal operations like commercial marijuana dispensaries. U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy is committed to upholding justice and keeping the peace, not haphazardly attacking honest businesses.
In regards to the pharmacies who have received cease and desist orders, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy assures them that these letters are completely illegitimate. While it is well within the rights of the U.S. Attorney to shut down pharmacies for abuses of the system, they are not choosing to do so at this time.
In conclusion, the U.S. Attorney asks that the public to disregard the events of these false allegations. People have no reason to worry about the administration of justice conducted by our office. The full extent of our power, tempered by our judgment, will be used to put a stop to these absurd allegations and defamation.
For Press Inquiries contact:
Steven T. Fredrickson, Press Secretary, US Attorney Southern District – (619)-306-2854
Analogous to the first release, the second had a spokesperson as well. This time, it was an actor playing Mr. Steven T. Fredrickson (another randomly chosen name). ‘Mr. Fredrickson’ answered calls and email from media outlets and discussed the strict enforcement action he was planning on taking against the perpetrators of the first release. “They will be thoroughly punished,” he told reporters “we will be issuing another statement in the near future.”
Shortly after the second release was sent out, the real Laura Duffy scheduled a press conference for 11:00am to discuss the fake releases. Meanwhile, Shiner’s and Fredrickson’s phones were ringing off the hook, with reporters trying to figure out who was behind the hoax.
Although not planned for, Duffy’s press conference spurred the idea of sending an actor to deliver the third release directly to the media gathered at the press conference.
Duffy stood outside the federal courthouse in front of a dozen cameras grumbling about the fake releases. Interrupting her speech, the actor walked up to the media and said, “Laura Duffy is a Benedict Arnold, nothing but a Benedict Arnold!” and passed out the third release, in which the Federal Accountability Coalition claimed responsibility.
This third release scolded Duffy for her wasteful attack on state’s rights, as well as insubordination of federal government, President Obama, and attorney general Holder. The release criticized her insubordination, raised concerns of her rogue efforts, and raised fears of Duffy targeting farmer’s markets and people’s right to bear arms next. The statements in the release were so sensational that even more media attention was brought to the action as a result.
Once all copies of the release were handed out, he walked away, the media following him for several blocks. The mere presence of FAC caused all the cameras to shift focus away from Duffy and to the actor, as a result entirely spoiling her press conference.
Full Text of 3rd Release: FAC Takes Credit for First Two Releases
Government Shutdown of Pharmacies a Hoax: Rogue US Attorney Duffy is a Benedict Arnold
San Diego, CA, July 27, 2012: The “Cease and Desist” orders and “official” press release announcing the closure of pharmacies in San Diego, purportedly originating from the office of US Attorney Laura Duffy, are indeed fake.
This hoax was conducted in retaliation against US Attorney Laura Duffy for her insubordination against the Obama Administration and Government of the United States of America.
Duffy’s superiors, President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, have both pledged that Federal resources would not be used to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries operating in compliance with state law. Despite this pledge to the American public, U.S. Attorney Duffy has used Federal power to target medical marijuana dispensaries with asset forfeiture. Her office has made it clear that she is willing to push her agenda regardless of state laws, personal liberties and the free-market.
Recently, Laura Duffy’s office has pursued the closure of San Diego County’s only permitted medical marijuana dispensary, in direct violation of official policy.
“I’m not a pot smoker or an Obama supporter, but I am a concerned citizen and property owner.” said Dexter Haight from the Federal Accountability Coalition. “Duffy’s a Benedict Arnold. She’s not following orders. And what’s more, if she shuts down a proper medical marijuana facility, how long until she goes after the pharmacies? Duffy’s actions are emblematic of erosions of our personal liberty and property rights that have become so commonplace in our post-9/11 world. What will she confiscate next, my home, my guns, the local farmer’s market?”
Benedict Arnold was an American General during the Revolutionary War whose name became synonymous with treason once it was discovered that he attempted to sell West Point to the British. After American victory in the war, Arnold was exiled to Britain where he lived out the rest of his life shamed and banished.
“Benedict Arnold betrayed America because he wasn’t liked by citizens or his peers. It’s a well known fact that Duffy is the least well regarded of the four US Attorneys in California. Bitterness festered into insubordination in Arnorld’s case and led to treason. Duffy is already insubordinate, what’s next?”
Letters distributed by the US Attorney’s office signed by Duffy have stated, regarding property seizure: “Real and personal property involved in such [illegal] operations are subject to seizure by and forfeiture to the United States … regardless of the purported purpose…” In another press release from her office she boasts of collecting “$29,725,382” in asset forfeitures in 2011 from the Southern District alone.
“I can’t believe how proud she is of taking Americans’ property; maybe it’s because she was appointed, not elected. Maybe it’s bitterness over her low reputation. Either way, it’s time she is held accountable by President Obama and Eric Holder for her flagrant insubordination.”0
Haight continues, “Our founding fathers grew hemp for paper and ropes. Nobody was taking their property. Today, if someone threw a pot seed into my yard, they’d come and take my house. It’s criminal.”
After the third release went out, an actor playing Dexter Haight (another randomly chosen name) took calls and answered reporters’ questions.
By this time, there were already multiple articles online about the hoax and the action was taking over local news coverage for the day. Various news outlets were running stories about the action, some of them mixing up real quotes from Duffy with quotes from fake releases, and all of them focusing on this organization called FAC.
The FAC had not only an email and phone number, but, to appear credible, there was also a website, a Facebook page, aTwitter account and a YouTube Account, which were all getting a lot of traffic. The website and FAC press release included links to a video where Dexter Haight claimed responsibility for the hoax on camera.
As the actor playing Dexter was fielding dozens of calls and emails from media about the hoax, it became clear that the best way to finish off the day was for FAC to hold a press conference at which the full reveal would take place.
Shortly thereafter, FAC announced that a press conference would be held at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park at 2pm that day to discuss all the details of the hoax.
The media showed up in full force. There were multiple cameras, photographers, and a stand with microphones. The press conference started promptly at 2pm with the actor playing Dexter Haight coming up to the stand and announcing, “My name is Dexter Haight, I am with the Federal Accountability Coalition. I am here to announce that my name is not Dexter Haight, I am an actor.” After Dexter spoke, advocates took the stage and discussed in detail the horrors of Duffy’s actions and why they had gone to such great lengths to bring this issue to light.
Just as this final press conference began, the 4th and final press release was sent out.
Full Text of 4th Release: Full Reveal – Advocates Take Credit
Pharmacy Hoax Revealed
San Diego, CA – The San Diego Chapter of Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s largest medical cannabis advocacy group, working with LGBT activism group Canvass for a Cause and as part of the The Yes Men’s “Yes Labs” project, released a series of satirical press releases on Tuesday which indicated that U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy would begin targeting pharmacies for closure using asset forfeiture proceedings. The purpose of the action was to draw attention to the U.S. Attorney’s harmful efforts to deny patients access to doctor-recommended medical cannabis.
“Just as the closure of retail pharmacies, like CVS or Walgreens, is poor public health policy, so is the federal government’s crackdown on medical cannabis dispensaries,” said Eugene Davidovich of San Diego ASA. “Pharmacies, like medical cannabis dispensaries, play an essential role in our communities as they help the sick and dying treat and manage various medical conditions,” continued Davidovich. “Laura Duffy and the Obama Administration have no place interfering in the implementation of state law by shutting down dispensaries that thousands of patients rely on.”
The real Laura Duffy isn’t joking. In October 2011, Duffy and her fellow U.S. Attorneys in California began an escalated attack on medical cannabis businesses. “The California marijuana industry is not about providing medicine to the sick,” said Duffy at the time. “It’s a pervasive for-profit industry that violates federal law.” Since October, Duffy has used threats of criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture to close over two hundred medical cannabis facilities in her District.
Despite claims from Attorney General Eric Holder that his Justice Department was only targeting dispensaries operating “out of conformity with state law,” Duffy and the other U.S. Attorneys have indiscriminately targeted these facilities, regardless of “conformity,” shutting down all but a few in San Diego County. Most recently Duffy attempted to shut down the only collective in her district that is operating under a permit from the Sheriff’s department.
For many patients who cannot sustain the regular consumption of pharmaceutical medication, cannabis isn’t simply an alternative; it’s their only option. From reducing nausea and increasing appetite for people living with cancer or HIV/AIDS to stabilizing chronic pain, the vast majority of California’s medical cannabis patients rely on dispensaries. Advocates argue that by closing dispensaries, Duffy and other U.S. Attorneys are pushing thousands of patients into the illicit market and complicating the job of law enforcement.
“Today’s press releases may have been a hoax, but for the thousands of patients adversely impacted by Duffy’s attacks on medical cannabis, it’s no joke. The LGBT community fought hard to legalize HIV/AIDS medicine for their family and we carry on that tradition today” said Rachel Scoma, from Canvass for a Cause. “Patients need safe and legal access to their medication, not prosecution from the federal government.”
Media Coverage Surrounding the Hoax:
SF Bay Observer Editorial: http://www.
NBC San Diego: .
Romensky updated: http://jimromenesko.
LA Times: http://latimesblogs.
Federal Accountability Coalition - www.federalaccountability.
Youtube video of interviews: - http://www.youtube.com/user/
Since the final release, multiple articles have been published by various news outlets covering the action as well as Duffy’s response. Duffy, however, instead of considering changing her stance on cannabis, has since threatened jail time for those she calls “the hoaxers” and has announced to the media that the FBI has been brought in to investigate; more waste of taxpayer dollars and another boneheaded move by Duffy’s office.
With this action and other actions that took place that week throughout the state, Duffy and other US Attorneys are on notice that any person who interferes with medical cannabis patients and/or providers will continue to be subject to coordinated grassroots response by the public at large, in local and national forums.
It is time to end this war on patients, let science lead public policy, and allow states to protect their most vulnerable citizens.
The San Diego Chapter of Americans for Safe Access would like to extend a thank you to all the advocates who took part in this wildly successful expression of art and satire, with a special thank you to Canvass for a Cause, The Yes Men, Agitprop and the San Diego Museum of Art for making this action possible.
A Footnote Worthy of Note: Less than one (1) hour after the actor interrupted Duffy’s press conference, the FAC’s Twitter account was abruptly suspended without reason or communication from Twitter.com. As of the release of this article, all other fake Duffy and FAC Internet accounts remain active… Tweet! Tweet!
Still More Information:
This article first appeared at San Diego Free Press.