The Drug Enforcement Administration conducted several raids Wednesday on marijuana dispensaries throughout Washington state, continuing a trend of targeting businesses that are perfectly legal by state government standards but fly in the face of federal drug laws.
DEA spokeswoman Jodie Underwood confirmed the raids occurred, but did not provide any other information, such as the number of dispensaries targeted or the number of search warrants executed.
Seattle medical marijuana attorney Douglas Hiatt said dispensaries targeted by the DEA included Seattle Cross, Tacoma Cross and Bayside Collective in Olympia.
“A client of mine who was talking to a DEA agent was told that there were going to be 18 places raided today up and down the corridor,” Hiatt said to InfoWars.com.
Earlier this year, Underwood said that 41 marijuana dispensaries in Seattle had received warning letters because they were reportedly in violation of state and federal law. Underwood said the letters were part of the DEA’s “on-going comprehensive strategy to combat drug trafficking in coordination with five judicial districts in our area of responsibility.”
Addy Norton is an employee at Bayside Gardens, one of the dispensaries that was raided. She said DEA agents seized pot and workers’ personal cellphones, but left computers and about $1,000 in cash. Norton said the agents told her the raid was part of a two-year investigation and said she would be required to appear before a federal grand jury in Seattle in September.
On its Facebook page, Bayside Gardens said that while they don’t have any medication in stock after the raid, they are still open and thanked residents and customers for their support.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Washington since 1998. Last November, the state voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
Under state law, medical marijuana patients can legally possess a 60-day supply of marijuana, which is defined as up to 24 ounces of useable marijuana and 15 plants. Recreational users 21 and older can possess up to an ounce of marijuana. However marijuana is still banned under federal law, even for medicinal purposes.
In the U.S., marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning the federal government does not recognize any medicinal value in the drug and classifies it as highly addictive.
What Would Eric Do?
As Mint Press News previously reported, state lawmakers in Colorado and Washington have been waiting for an announcement from the federal government on how it plans to handle state marijuana laws, especially now that recreational use is legal in two states.
In March, Attorney General Eric Holder said the federal government was reviewing the states’ marijuana laws and the policy ramifications, both domestically and internationally, of legalizing the substance at the federal level.
Holder has yet to share the final verdict, but in an interview with a Canadian news magazine last February, Gil Kerlikowske, President Obama’s director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said the federal government would ignore state legalization.
“You’ll continue to see enforcement against distributors and large-scale growers as the Justice Department has outlined,” he said.
Casey Lee, manager of Bayside Gardens, said a DEA agent told him during Wednesday’s raid that he should get out of the medical marijuana business because “things are going to be hell for you.”
Hiatt said that since Washington voters chose to legalize marijuana, he thinks high-profile raids, such as those that occurred on Wednesday, will result in the Supreme Court ultimately deciding whether states can legalize the drug.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in March that if the federal government decides to oppose the state’s law, he has a team of lawyers in his office preparing to make the best legal case for upholding it.
Washington wasn’t the only state targeted on Wednesday by the DEA. Minnesota also experienced one of its biggest drug busts ever after agents uncovered marijuana fields near Hinckley, Minn. The DEA reportedly seized more than 5,500 marijuana plants, worth an estimated $4.1 million.
Officers from local and state agencies helped the DEA execute the federal search warrant.
As Mint Press News previously reported, a book written by drug policy scholars, “Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know,” highlights the fact that the Constitution protects state law enforcement from having to enforce federal criminal laws. Since marijuana is not legal for either recreational or medicinal purposes in Minnesota, local and state officers were able to help execute the warrant.
“The focus of [Wednesday’s] effort was to locate, document and destroy these plants before they could be harvested and enter the illicit drug market,” Minnesota U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones said.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, a spokesman for the DEA declined to say whether there were any suspects, who owns the land where the plants were found, or how long authorities had been investigating this crop.
Due to the Minnesota’s northern climate, outdoor growing operations are relatively uncommon. Most pot busts in the state occur at indoor “pot palaces.” However, in 1991, a marijuana farm that had about 5,000 plants valued at $12.5 million was discovered and destroyed in north-central Minnesota.
Costly DEA raids
The U.S. spends about $40 billion each year on the war on drugs despite the fact that no one has ever died from consuming or smoking too much marijuana. According to a report from Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana patient advocacy group, each raid costs taxpayers around $17,000.
Greg Campbell, a journalist and author of “Pot Inc.,” says the public won’t tolerate the DEA reprimanding everyday citizens in states where marijuana is legal.
“No one questions their authority to do it,” Campbell said. “It’ll be a question of priority. If the DEA is really going to waste its resources, doing that rather than focusing on bloodshed on the border, you’ll see complete outrage.”
As more and more states legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use, many former DEA chiefs have criticized the Obama administration for reacting too slowly. They have cited concerns the U.S. will see a “domino effect” of marijuana laws as a result.
In March, former DEA administrators that served under both Republican and Democratic administrations sent a letter to Holder asking him to publicly oppose the new marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado.
But since a large percentage of the DEA’s money comes from drug sting operations, specifically marijuana trafficking, many marijuana advocates have questioned whether the DEA opposes legalization simply because they don’t want to lose that income.
This likely explains why the DEA continues to raid dispensaries in California, despite the fact that 67 percent of California voters oppose the shutdowns.
Since California first legalized medical marijuana in 1996, the state has had more DEA raids than any other state. As a result, many of the most respected medical marijuana dispensaries have been shut down.
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