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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Did Feds Just Announce Plans to "Crack Down" on Legal Pot States?

Posted by on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 9:10 AM

Lots of people have sent me an alarming story on ThinkProgress that has Twitter atwitter and Facebook afacebook—and I totally get why they're worried. The piece by Nicole Flatow warns that "federal prosecutors will crack down on recreational marijuana dispensaries and growers even in states where they are legal."

Holy crap, right?

This crackdown reportedly came up when the Canadian magazine Macleans interviewed White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, who talked about marijuana-legalization laws that just passed in Washington State and Colorado. If Kerlokowske really is saying that feds will bust state-licensed pot stores, then this would be understandably HUGE news. Up to now, the Obama Administration and the US Department of Justice have been deliberative—telegraphing nothing to officials from those states—so the question is, did Obama's minion spill the beans?

But don't rely on Flatow's characterization of the interview. Look what the Drug Czar actually said when asked about the two states:

You’ll continue to see enforcement against distributors and large-scale growers as the Justice Department has outlined. They will use their limited resources on those groups and not on going after individual users.

Does Kerlikowske's remark actually, as Flatow claims, "state explicitly that the federal government will prosecute dispensaries and producers once they are licensed in Washington and Colorado"?

No. It just doesn't.

I'll explain why it doesn't say that in a second. But first: Media loves to scream THE SKY IS FALLING every time the feds make a move on pot. They claim the feds are putting the kibosh on the whole medical-marijuana thing every time there's a spate of raids. This makes people mistakenly believe that America's unpopular drug laws are insurmountable. But look: MEDICAL MARIJUANA IS STILL BOOMING. It's actually a growing industry, despite all the hysteria that the feds are shutting the whole thing down, rounding everyone up, and putting everyone in jail. Until the feds actually do that, bloggers and editors—especially of progressive media outlets—should hold off on their doomsday misreading of minor events and statements. Those stories might generate web traffic, but they're not helping their progressive agenda; they're deflating it.

So what's the drug czar's comment actually say?

The key parts of Kerlikowske's statement are "large-scale" and "as the Justice Department has outlined." What has the Justice Department outlined? Prosecutors haven't yet outlined pot enforcement in states that legalized recreational pot. The guidelines that exist apply to medical marijuana, but the feds don't differentiate non-medical pot anyway, so those are the guidelines we're working with. What the DOJ outlined in 2009 and 2011 memos is that prosecutors should prioritize charging people breaking state marijuana laws. For example, most of the federal busts in the last few years were people flagrantly exceeding state's medical marijuana laws. That's not a strict policy, and the Feds have license to bust any drug offense at any time, regardless of state law, but they overwhelmingly target obvious abuses of state law. Given that that's the outline, Kerlikowske isn't necessarily saying small-time pot stores licensed in Washington or Colorado—those following state law—will get busted. It may even means the opposite: that licensed growers operating under state law won't get prosecuted.

Since voters approved recreational pot, we've heard the Department of Justice say marijuana is still illegal, but we've also heard that Washington State Governor is encouraged by what he's heard from the US Attorney General Eric Holder, and Obama has also said he's got "bigger fish to fry" than pot users.

And let's put this interview in context: Kerlikowske does not speak for Obama Administration's legal strategy. He doesn't work for the DOJ and he's not even in the president's cabinet. In the interview, he criticizes the administration for having "not done a particularly good job" of talking about "where we should be headed on our drug policy." He's speaking largely as an outsider and critic.

My crystal ball is as cloudy as Flatow's, so I can't say that the federal government won't bust licensed marijuana growers, distributors, and sellers—because they could. Or that they won't file an injunction to freeze WA's and CO's laws before licenses are issued (which could be more likely than busting private citizens)—because they could do that, too. Or they could could leave Washington and Colorado alone—they could realistically make that call just like medical pot. We don't know. But Kerlikowske's recent comments don't make anyone's crystal balls any clearer, and Flatow's extrapolation that the feds will "crack down" seems, at best, naive and, at worst, like click bait.

Sorry if this seems like a lot of pixels to spill on one sensational blogger, but it's necessary to hit back at this counter-productive, knee-jerk naysaying so people don't swallow the bullshit.

 

Comments (20) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
1
Nice pun.
Posted by wxPDX on February 14, 2013 at 9:32 AM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 2
I agree that the imminence of the threat is over-stated, there.

But I'm still really skeptical that the feds are going to keep their hands off. Obama said he'd leave users alone, and I don't think he chose his words carelessly. A state licensed store selling weed would/will meet every federal definition of a "distributor" and no one has said that they are going to leave distributors alone.

I sincerely hope I am wrong. And I stand behind what we're doing here in WA. But it's going to be interesting times here, one way or another.
Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on February 14, 2013 at 9:35 AM · Report this
Dominic Holden 3

@2) While I agree that the feds may file an injunction against the states at some point, or they could prosecute folks who have licenses to grow and sell, I just want to be clear that that's not what Kerlikowske said. It's dishonest for any media outlet to misrepresent it that way.

Posted by Dominic Holden on February 14, 2013 at 9:42 AM · Report this
fletc3her 4
It's interesting that Seattle's former police chief is the current drug czar. At the least he should be familiar with many of the politicians who he will be corresponding with about the implementation of the legal marijuana market.
Posted by fletc3her on February 14, 2013 at 9:47 AM · Report this
theophrastus 5
@5: when he was still police chief here (and not at all a bad one compared with others that have held that office) he was waving around city-hall, and else-where, a 'reefer-madness' screed produced by the Bush administration tabacco lobby that amounted to "super-weed shall bring down the republic!!!". various folks tried to calm him, but he was uncalmable; then he left for the national drug czar position. so apparently he's still focused on that distorted point of view.
Posted by theophrastus on February 14, 2013 at 10:09 AM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 6
@4 True. And most police chiefs have pretty progressive views w/ respect to the failings of the War on Drugs. Makes one wonder about any internal conflicts Kerlikowske has about that and his current position as Drug Czar.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on February 14, 2013 at 10:11 AM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 7
@5 Shit, I stand corrected.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on February 14, 2013 at 10:13 AM · Report this
8
Start a betting pool on who will be busted first.
Posted by pupuguru http://www.godsweed.org on February 14, 2013 at 10:13 AM · Report this
9
Dominic, if you're going to make a spelling error, at least don't put it in bold.
Posted by But you don't really care, do you? on February 14, 2013 at 10:32 AM · Report this
passionate_jus 10
I know this is off topic but the Illinois Senate is debating on marriage equality NOW:

live stream: http://new.livestream.com/blueroomstream…

live blog:
http://capitolfax.com/2013/02/14/live-se…

another live stream:

http://www.ilga.gov/senate/audvid.asp
Posted by passionate_jus on February 14, 2013 at 10:33 AM · Report this
Will in Seattle 11
@8 expect sting operations where under 21 buyers try to buy 2 ounces, after a long sob story about why they can't come in every day.

Also, any grow op within 100 miles of the border.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on February 14, 2013 at 11:01 AM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 12
@3--Fair enough!

Eternal vigilance, and all of that...

Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on February 14, 2013 at 11:43 AM · Report this
watchout5 13
I'm one of those people, show me the pictures of the feds raiding places. Until then, I just don't see the kind of mass bust this warning seems to carry with it. Thanks for the reporting, better safe than sorry but calm down. Also, none of this changes my consumption patters of pot, I hope someone in the federal government understands that even in their most extreme they have no power over what I decide to put in my lungs.
Posted by watchout5 http://www.overclockeddrama.com on February 14, 2013 at 12:28 PM · Report this
14
If the State of Washington's new marijuana cartel system isn't going to be "large scale," then we might as well throw out the dictionary because words no longer mean anything.
Posted by Unbrainwashed on February 14, 2013 at 2:24 PM · Report this
15
I would love to agree with this 100%, but I can't.

The DEA has a track record of busting distributors after assets have been accumulated, so they can confiscate the assets.

Melinda Haag is trying to confiscate a damn hospital dispensary, shameless Jezebel.

Kerfrag-what's-his-name is fearing for his job. It's been discussed over and over that pot busts are the easiest.

I'm not buying it. PLEASE SOMEBODY PROVE ME WRONG.

Everybody has a disclaimer. I don't smoke, but wish I had time to. Some day I will have time.

I need to add a second note. I am in Washington. It's really important for everyone in this state and CO to not be stupid about this new freedom, and not give the naysayers any ammunition against the movement. Do your research. Watch countries that have legalized. Gain learn from their experiences.
Posted by Bridget_Waters on February 14, 2013 at 3:37 PM · Report this
16
Well we're expecting a crackdown so the slightest hint from the Government that they'll do just that makes perfect sense.

People don't realize how in love with marijuana prohibition our Government is, it's their main (and most time only) way to storm into citizen's private business.
Posted by Coinspinner on February 14, 2013 at 6:38 PM · Report this
17
Hey, nice writing. If you can stand that it’s an anecdote, my observations are based on a particular incident.
As a Calif. resident, I supported (as a referendum) Prop. 19 for legalization although it wasn’t well-written and likely didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. What finally swayed me as a new Wash. resident to support I-502 was a Stranger article pointing out how current marijuana laws had been used as a proxy for racial profiling.
This article (http://bit.ly/Zn6tXU) describes a chilling event regarding a dispensary bust in a remote, ultra-conservative town in California (it has a few inaccuracies: the “handful” of residents was well over a hundred, significant in a city of less than 30,000). In the dead of night, NCIS with the assistance of every other police force within 50 miles (not an exaggeration) storm-trooped into the residence at the back of the dispensary, dragging away the residents in their underwear. It was not on Navy property. It was three doors down from my house - nearly 10 miles from the nearest gate entering the Base, and miles outside the City limits.
The dispensary was cleanly and securely run. They had recently obtained a legal ruling enabling them to re-open (as the only dispensary within nearly 100 miles). Would it be too speculative to say this was a politically-driven bust in retaliation for pissing off the very conservative members running the City and Base?
Perhaps not when one considers what also was happening in close proximity to the Base: an illegal cartel grow in one of the BLM wilderness canyons just to the west. The bust occurred just weeks after all BLM personnel were notified by the DEA of the grow and to abstain from entering the canyon for the rest of the year.
Afterwards, meth labs in my neighborhood continued to burn to the ground at the rate of two to three a year – in an area of maybe two hundred homes (Google map “Buttermilk Acres” and count for yourself).
No action was ever taken against the grow.
@13 No pictures exist and no further details have ever been released. This story has nearly disappeared and no one’s heard from the dispensary operators since.
More...
Posted by Smurf Hunter on February 18, 2013 at 11:32 AM · Report this
18
Hey, nice writing. If you can stand that it’s an anecdote, my observations are based on a particular incident.
As a Calif. resident, I supported (as a referendum) Prop. 19 for legalization although it wasn’t well-written and likely didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. What finally swayed me as a new Wash. resident to support I-502 was a Stranger article pointing out how current marijuana laws had been used as a proxy for racial profiling.
This article (http://bit.ly/Zn6tXU) describes a chilling event regarding a dispensary bust in a remote, ultra-conservative town in California (it has a few inaccuracies: the “handful” of residents was well over a hundred, significant in a city of less than 30,000). In the dead of night, NCIS with the assistance of every other police force within 50 miles (not an exaggeration) storm-trooped into the residence at the back of the dispensary, dragging away the residents in their underwear. It was not on Navy property. It was three doors down from my house - nearly 10 miles from the nearest gate entering the Base, and miles outside the City limits.
The dispensary was cleanly and securely run. They had recently obtained a legal ruling enabling them to re-open (as the only dispensary within nearly 100 miles). Would it be too speculative to say this was a politically-driven bust in retaliation for pissing off the very conservative members running the City and Base?
Perhaps not when one considers what also was happening in close proximity to the Base: an illegal cartel grow in one of the BLM wilderness canyons just to the west. The bust occurred just weeks after all BLM personnel were notified by the DEA of the grow and to abstain from entering the canyon for the rest of the year.
Afterwards, meth labs in my neighborhood continued to burn to the ground at the rate of two to three a year – in an area of maybe two hundred homes (Google map “Buttermilk Acres” and count for yourself).
No action was ever taken against the grow.
@13 No pictures exist and no further details have ever been released. This story has nearly disappeared and no one’s heard from the dispensary operators since.
More...
Posted by Smurf Hunter on February 18, 2013 at 11:35 AM · Report this
19
DEA is still busting growers and dispensaries that are legal under state laws, not to mention feral hemp fields everywhere. And 50% of drug arrests are for simple marijuana possession. How could they pass up that easy money?
US citizens, you can 1) Vote 2) Petition 3) Use your power of jury nullificaiton - a juror can vote to aquit if he or she feels the law is unjust or misapplied. Also, vote with your money - join groups like mpp or norml and buy hemp.
Posted by fighting4commonsense on March 18, 2013 at 8:27 AM · Report this
20
#13 - Pics & facts are easy to find on the web.
Posted by fighting4commonsense on March 18, 2013 at 8:38 AM · Report this

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