It wasn't that the 14 medical-marijuana dispensaries raided today were selling pot to the sick and dying under state rules, federal authorities announced this evening. But rather, according to companion statements issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Justice, that these dispensary operators in the Seattle area were overstepping legal bounds and violating other laws.
Among the Feds' concerns: "their failure to abide by state medical marijuana guidelines; indications that they were distributing large amounts of drugs; and evidence they were laundering large amounts of money," says the Department of Justice. (Just a quick interjection: State rules are Byzantine and suggest that dispensaries must operate as collectives of 10 patients who grow no more than 45 plants, or as clusters of collectives.) "Sales to people who are not ill, particularly our youth, sales or grows in school zones, and the use of guns in connection with an enterprise all present a danger to our community.”
"As we have previously stated, we will not prosecute truly ill people or their doctors who determine that marijuana is an appropriate medical treatment," announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. "However, state laws of compassion were never intended to protect brash criminal conduct that masquerades as medical treatment."
It also seems other marijuana activists may have snitched: "Some of these marijuana stores were the subject of complaints from their surrounding communities as well as medical marijuana supporters, concerned about businesses operating outside the letter and spirit of state law," the DOJ said.
Meanwhile, DEA agent Matthew Barnes pointed out in his own statement that while "it has never been our policy to target individuals with serious illnesses" some people have used the guise of medical marijuana laws "to satisfy their own personal greed."
I haven't reviewed the court records, so can't say if these claims seem legit (though it's encouraging that the feds aren't vowing scorched earth—just targeting certain players). But I'll point out two ways of looking at this: On the one hand, charges of big profits and victimized kids are cliches trotted out by federal officials whenever they bust medical marijuana dispensaries. Money laundering could be pinned on any business that operates in a legal gray area, while nearly all of the city is a school zone and nobody knows if a person is healthy—except his or her doctor. As for breaking state rules: Given the nebulous nature of medical marijuana laws in Washington state—particularly after Governor Chris Gregoire partially vetoed a bill last spring—it would be easy to claim that any dispensary if running afoul of the law in one way or another. But on the other hand, lots of shady folks traffic pot under dubious circumstance, and feds only busted 14 dispensaries (as of last count) and left hundreds untouched. So maybe, you know, these folks were far enough outside the scope of best practices that they truly were flouting the law.
Activists are planning a protest rally tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. at the Jackson Federal Building in Downtown Seattle.
Statement from the DEA:
DEA SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE MATTHEW G. BARNES STATEMENT REGARDING MARIJUANA ENFORCEMENT
It has never been our policy to target individuals with serious illnesses. However, there are those operating commercial storefronts cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana under the guise of state medical marijuana laws and exploiting such activities to satisfy their own personal greed. The DEA remains committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in all states.
The coordinated enforcement actions of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and our state and local law enforcement partners involve violations of both federal and state law.
The DEA will exercise its investigative authority to pursue criminal actions for any violation of federal law, when warranted. This includes investigating organizations or individuals that grow, manufacture or distribute any illegal drug to include marijuana, and those who rent or maintain a property to facilitate drug trafficking.
Statement from the Department of Justice:
ADVISORY REGARDING LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTIVITY IN WESTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON AND STATEMENT OF U.S. ATTORNEY JENNY A. DURKAN
Today, Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local law enforcement executed search warrants in four ongoing federal investigations in Western Washington relating to illegal drug distribution and other crimes in violation of federal law. Each of the investigations targets commercial enterprises that purport to operate as “medical” marijuana establishments but also fail to comply with applicable state law.
As set forth in the search warrant affidavits unsealed by the U.S. District Court today, these businesses attracted the attention of federal law enforcement for a number of reasons: their failure to abide by state medical marijuana guidelines; indications that they were distributing large amounts of drugs; and evidence they were laundering large amounts of money. Some of these marijuana stores were the subject of complaints from their surrounding communities as well as medical marijuana supporters, concerned about businesses operating outside the letter and spirit of state law. One operator was arrested this morning for violating the court ordered terms of his federal supervised release for a prior federal conviction.
The following is a statement from U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan on the ongoing investigations:
“The activities today and the ongoing investigations are targeted actions consistent with Department of Justice policy and guidelines. Our job is to enforce federal criminal laws. In doing so, we always prioritize and focus our resources. As we have previously stated, we will not prosecute truly ill people or their doctors who determine that marijuana is an appropriate medical treatment. However, state laws of compassion were never intended to protect brash criminal conduct that masquerades as medical treatment. In determining how to focus our drug enforcement resources, we will look at the true nature and scope of an enterprise, and its impact on the community. We will continue to target and investigate entities that are large scale commercial drug enterprises, or that threaten public safety in other ways. Sales to people who are not ill, particularly our youth, sales or grows in school zones, and the use of guns in connection with an enterprise all present a danger to our community.”
Those identified in the search warrant affidavits are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.