The movement to end marijuana prohibition scored another big win this summer, as a major anti-cannabis prosecutor left her job in California.
Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney for the region that includes the San Francisco Bay Area, announced in late July that she would leave her job effective Sept. 1. Haag told her staff she plans to spend more time with her family, but otherwise gave no public reason for her departure.
It probably had something to do with her staunch position on medical marijuana. Haag is responsible for a long string of raids and prosecutions designed to end MMJ in a large swath of California. She is widely considered one of the most aggressive federal officials who opposes reform.
Haag defiantly refused president’s order
Haag repeatedly refused to back down from her crusade, even under orders from President Barack Obama and Congress. She essentially went rogue for several months, refusing to end her campaign to shutter the nation’s largest cannabis dispensary, the Harborside Health Center of Oakland.
Her obstinance flew in the face of guidelines issued by the Obama administration that instructed prosecutors to go easy on medical marijuana in places where it’s legal under state law. It also ignored laws passed by Congress that were designed to protect MMJ patients and providers.
With the backing of the Department of Justice, Haag simply argued that the directives didn’t apply to her or to her anti-cannabis prosecutions. Lawmakers and reformers blasted that position, saying Haag was willfully breaking the law.
Reason for Haag’s resignation unknown
No one in the administration provided a reason for Haag’s resignation, but it comes in the wake of other marijuana-related shakeups by the White House. Michelle Leonhart, the former head of the DEA, left that agency earlier this year in the wake of a scandal involving drug traffickers, prostitutes, and DEA agents.
Among other tactics, Haag made liberal use of civil forfeiture laws, which allow police to seize money and other property from innocent civilians, and then never give it back. She also routinely threatened landlords with prosecution if they agreed to rent office space to legal dispensaries. Haag’s strategies led many to object that she was brazenly violating the Bill of Rights.
Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, but the drug remains illegal for any use under federal drug statutes. Haag used that discrepancy to try to turn back the clock and end MMJ across the state.
Haag made many enemies
Obama appointed Haag U.S. attorney in 2010, after she served as head of her office’s white collar division. She rapidly built a reputation as a hard-core enforcer of anti-marijuana laws. She also quickly made a long list of dedicated enemies – foes who are likely at least partly responsible for her demise.
Obama has yet to announce a replacement for Haag, but recent events suggest he probably won’t pick another hardliner as he prepares to leave office. His appointment to replace Leonhart at the DEA has already taken a softer stance on cannabis, acknowledging in recent weeks that it’s safer than heroin.