On July 24th, armed members of the Drug Enforcement Agency raided four medicinal marijuana dispensaries in the South Sound region of Washington State. Per federal authorities, the raids are a part of an investigation dating back to 2011, the year before Initiative 502 passed. No arrests were made, but DEA agents did seize supplies of marijuana and the dispensaries were closed down. Employees of the dispensaries were told that they would be subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury when the investigation wraps up in September of this year.
While federal authorities raiding medical marijuana dispensaries is not unheard of, the fact that these raids took place in Washington, where marijuana has been legal since December of last year, once again raises questions about the federal government’s still undefined policy of enforcement when it comes to states that have legalized medicinal and recreational use of pot.
According to the US Attorney’s office, the raids were not a statement about the use of marijuana in Washington State.
Maybe the US Attorney’s office is right. Maybe these dispensaries were in violation of laws on the books at the time the investigation started. One would assume the raids are in relation to marijuana from the dispensaries ending up in the hands of individuals without a medicinal marijuana card, but at what cost?
Several years ago I happened to be working across the street from a local collective. I watched (city police) raid and shut down the dispensary. I also saw the result of the raid – patients in wheelchairs and who were bald from chemotherapy distraught on the sidewalk as they came to terms with the fact that they may not be able to obtain a medicine that returned them to something near a normal quality of life.
Even if these raids are not a statement about the use of marijuana in Washington, they may have national implications. Even though pot is now legalized at the state level, this seems to show the intent of the federal government to continue to prosecute based upon national laws.
At the state level, enforcement has already been dropped or made a low priority. King and Pierce county prosecutors dropped over 200 marijuana related cases just days after Washington State’s Initiative 502, which legalized marijuana in the state, passed. Seattle police declared marijuana use one of their lowest priorities and opted to issue verbal warnings instead of tickets for those using in public. To date, the Seattle police haven’t issued any citations for public marijuana use.
It remains to be seen if the federal government will follow suit, but in the meantime raids continue.