Obama Administration Attacking Legal Pot Laws
The DEA set what could be a troubling precedent on July 24, raiding several medical marijuana dispensaries in the Puget Sound area, even though new laws make it legal to sell and possess pot at Washington dispensaries.
It’s unclear exactly what the raids portend for the treatment of Washington’s legal pot industry by the Obama administration. Reportedly they capped a two-year investigation into money-laundering and pot sales to unlicensed buyers.
Under those circumstances, the raided dispensary operators would fall outside Washington’s recreational pot law, which only allows marijuana sales in licensed retail shops. But the raids suggest a potential policy of federal harassment once recreational pot shops open.
The Obama administration has been ambiguous, at best, over how it will respond to the legalizing of pot in Washington and Colorado, both of whose voters took that step in November. Attorney General Eric Holder has promised to lay out the federal government’s policy toward these two states, but months have passed with no explanation and continued raids, especially on the West Coast.
Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, so the laws enacted by Washington and Colorado voters are in conflict with those enforced by the federal government.
Washington Dispensaries Targeted
The raids on July 24 targeted at least three dispensaries in King, Pierce and Thurston counties, respectively: Seattle Cross, Tacoma Cross and Bayside Collective, Dennis Hiatt, a defense attorney, told KING-TV in Seattle. Bayside is located in Olympia, the state capital.
At least one other shop was raided, Hiatt said, and as many as 18 more raids were expected. Federal agents raided the shops with guns drawn and seized business records and pot intended for patients, including $2,500 worth of marijuana at one clinic meant for cancer patients.
Casey Lee, who works at one of the raided Washington dispensaries, told KING-TV an agent told him, “Things are going to be hell for you.” When asked why he kept working at the store after an earlier raid and three robberies, he replied that he did it to help patients.
“He told us that he wasn’t expecting that answer,” Lee said. Washington is still in the process of finalizing the rules that will govern weed shops once they open early next year. Customers will be limited to possession of one ounce of marijuana and pot must be sold in retail stores licensed by the state.
Since no such stores have opened yet, it’s impossible to know how federal law enforcement will treat them. But the aggressive prosecution of medical dispensaries up and down the West Coast is not an encouraging sign.