Tuesday’s DEA raids against medical marijuana providers in the Puget Sound area shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. Similar raids had occurred in Spokane earlier this year, and many were well aware that the U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, Jenny Durkan, was investigating the activities of local medical marijuana providers. In the spring and summer, as the partially-vetoed new law took effect, many former dispensary owners scrambled to figure out how to comply with the confusing new regulations. But the only thing that was clear about the new law was that absolutely nothing was clear about it.
According to Durkan, only medical marijuana providers who were blatantly in violation of state law were targeted. In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll get a chance to see how true that really is. Those of us who’ve been following these cases for a while have seen many a medical marijuana provider accused of various misdeeds only to have the case fall apart when it turns out the confidential informant wasn’t reliable. But many of those earlier cases had a common denominator: Roy Alloway – the one-time head honcho of the federally-funded WestNET Drug Task Force who now awaits a prison sentence for illegal gun sales and tax evasion. I’d imagine that many local progressives who were elated to see Durkan in that office would be shocked if we uncovered the same level of reckless arrogance Alloway became famous for. We’ll find out over time.
For all the outrage that this has kicked up (and at a certain level, everything that happens within the drug war is an outrage), it certainly could have been worse. What happened in Montana earlier this year was disgraceful and clearly went against the promises made by the Obama Administration at the beginning of his term not to go after those following state law. By comparison, if local providers are still being profiled in the Weekly, we’re clearly not back to full speakeasy mode and there does appear to be some attempt to only go after those who were violating state law. But that’s not to say there aren’t a lot of concerns with what happened.
For starters, I find it obnoxious when those who enforce these laws say they’re not going after patients. That’s not true. Any time you shut down a provider and confiscate their plants, you’re automatically going after patients. And with the changes to the law this year, it’s even more so. Those in this state who are authorized to get medical marijuana have no way of knowing if a member of their garden is doing something else illegal on the side. And now that we’re forced to have a collective gardens model, patients are now forced to have an economic stake in the dispensaries. It’s not clear from any of the articles I’ve read whether or not plants were seized, but that’s generally what happens during a raid. So according to the way the law is set up, any seized medicine might have been “owned” by some patient out there who isn’t capable of growing their own and probably did nothing illegal. And with all the various places that were raided yesterday, I’d be surprised if that didn’t happen to some patients.
Second, with the current environment that medical marijuana dispensary operators have had to operate in, charging them with money laundering looks a lot like entrapment. The Department of Justice has been aggressively targeting banks and other financial institutions that openly deal with the medical marijuana industry. In this environment, it would seem that this makes money laundering an unavoidable aspect of doing business. As is the automatic disclaimer with any of my posts, IANAL and I encourage our lawyer friends to share their thoughts in the comments.
But that leads me to the last – and probably the biggest – thing I’m bothered by. It’s a quote from a DEA Agent:
DEA Special Agent Matthew G. Barnes released a statement that said the raids were conducted in part because these businesses were in violation of federal laws “for cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana under the guise of state medical marijuana laws and exploiting such activities to satisfy their own personal greed.”
What strikes me about this quote is that it borrows almost exactly from the rhetoric that the DEA has always used when it comes to drugs themselves. Historically, drug use has been the supreme threat to self-control and societal stability that requires these extreme and drastic measures from the state. But as the attitudes towards drug use – especially medical marijuana use – have changed in the past two decades, the rhetoric now focuses on those who make money from providing it. In this new construct, the desire for money is now the force that’s so overpowering that it threatens to destabilize society, just as they once claimed the desire for the drugs themselves would.
But just as it’s always been with drugs, the outrage towards greed by our government’s law enforcement community is pretty bad at identifying the appropriate targets. With an economy that has suffered at the hands of Wall Street firms whose truly reckless greed has cost us significantly, it seems more than a little odd to be focused on how much money people are making providing plants to those who want them – and in many cases, need them for medical reasons. In fact, it makes one look completely crazy.
Jenny Durkan’s two predecessors as U.S. Attorney for Western Washington both support legalizing marijuana for adults. Many people speculate that Durkan herself supports it as well, but can’t say so. Saying it while serving as a federal prosecutor would require a lot of courage, a virtue that folks at all levels of government often suppress for job security or simply lack in the first place. Until that changes, the war on (some) drugs – and it’s mutant spawn, the war on (some) greed – will continue to plow a path of destruction through this country.