DEA Continues Crackdown on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Were the recent raids in Washington a sign of an escalating federal campaign against state-sanctioned weed?

Marijuana Legalization: DEA Continues Crackdown on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
The DEA spent two years investigating medical marijuana dispensaries that operate fully in the open. (Photo: REUTERS/Andy Clark)
Matt Fleischer was awarded a Fund for Investigative Journalism grant for his series “Dangerous Jails.”

Last week federal agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration raided a series of medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington state. Marijuana and employee cell phones were apparently the intended targets of the raid.

Surprisingly, for an agency that makes money from drug-money seizures, marijuana money was largely ignored. At one dispensary in Olympia, agents left $1,000 dollars in cash untouched, as well as the store’s computers.

A spokesperson for the DEA told the Associated Press that the raids were part of a two-year investigation.

That the DEA should be launching any prolonged and costly investigations into state-sanctioned marijuana operations should be cause for outrage and alarm. That said, these most recent raids in Washington may not turn out to be as bad as they appear.

Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, told TakePart last May that the Feds were targeting dispensaries and growing operations whose product was being sold across state lines.

“They have pursued cases in which they believed medical marijuana was being diverted out of state, and they sent letters to 57 medical marijuana businesses informing them they were within 1,000 feet of a school and needed to relocate or shut down,” said Tvert.

Whether or not Tvert’s take on previous raids holds true with the recent Washington DEA actions remains unclear. The agency hasn’t commented on the nature of the raids, nor why these particular dispensaries were targeted. What is clear is that several of these dispensaries had already been on the Feds’ radar for some time, and were raided previously in 2011. No convictions were ever secured, however.

Could the Feds be scaling up attempts to stifle the burgeoning regulated marijuana industry?

Though marijuana activists like Tvert have publicly downplayed some of the recent raids on dispensaries as a limited, targeted action—rather than a sign of a blanket crackdown—it’s impossible to dismiss the potential chilling effect on the burgeoning industry at large.

Which, of course, may be the ultimate goal of these raids—getting state-sanctioned marijuana sellers to shut down voluntarily, thus saving the Obama administration from an embarrassing public relations nightmare.

If the DEA is hoping that state-sanctioned marijuana outlets will go away quietly, under the threat of possible draconian federal action, they may be in for a surprise.

“We are still open! We may not have meds at the moment but we are still open!” one of the raided dispensaries, Bayside Gardens, wrote on its Facebook page.

“They will not keep us down. Thank You everyone for ALL of you support and love. We have no Meds, but we still have our dignity and we aren’t going anywhere.”

A day later, according to a Facebook follow-up, the DEA returned and confiscated the dispensary’s houseboat.

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