Understanding the Medical Marijuana Raids
Why did the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force, on November 15, raid five local medical marijuana establishments and arrest seventeen people? Seriously, why?
Federal agents led one of the local raids, which was just one of fifteen raids they conducted throughout western Washington, and the feds actually gave an answer to this question. According to their press release, they targeted certain places, and not others, based on criteria including “their [the raided establishments’] 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.” The first criteria is especially interesting, given that the federal government doesn’t officially recognize medical marijuana.
So why did local authorities decide to raid four other places that apparently didn’t cause the feds sufficient concern? (The Narcotics Task Force is a partnership of Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, Thurston County, and Washington State.) The short answer from the commander of the task force was that the raided establishments were simply selling drugs, instead of following state medical marijuana laws, so, ergo, they were raided.
Now, the lawyers for the dispensaries dispute the interpretation of what is and is not legal at the dispensaries. We’re not lawyers, so we won’t weigh in on that.
Instead, the question we still want answered is, why did local law enforcement authorities, using their professional judgement and discretion, decide that these raids were the best use of their time? Was there no more serious crime they could have been targeting? We didn’t get a clear answer to this, but we have a bad feeling.
For starters, an OP&L reporter was able to identify five other sources for medical marijuana in Thurston County — and he found them quickly and easily using publicly available information. Some were storefronts, others were delivery places. But these five weren’t raided.
We only found one difference between the two groups: The establishments that applied for business licenses were raided, while those that didn’t apply weren’t. In other words, the places that tried to establish a legitimate business, follow the rules, and pay taxes got busted.
Three of the applicants actually received their business licenses, apparently as a matter of routine, while two others (both in Lacey) were denied after Lacey police declared them a public safety hazard (based, it seems, on a generic assumption that anyone selling marijuana must be a public safety hazard, not on any specific information; the three places that got licenses have not been associated with any known increase in police calls or other indicators of threats to public safety).
So, if only places that applied for licenses got raided, were authorities too lazy or stupid to look just a bit harder to find the places that didn’t apply? Or did law enforcement decide to make a show of force to teach the applicants a lesson?
Speaking of making a show, why conduct five local raids on one day? When police identify a distributor of, say, meth (a vastly more dangerous and destructive drug to both the user and everyone nearby), does the task force leave that distributor alone until it finds four other unrelated meth distributors, so they can all be arrested simultaneously? We doubt that.
All this leads us to the unhappy conclusion that these raids, even if legally justified, were intended more to deliver a message to would-be providers of medical marijuana than to protect the public or even to reduce the total amount of marijuana illegally sold in our community. After all, the legitimization of medical marijuana (or even, of marijuana) is less a threat to the public, and more a threat to law enforcement budgets and ideologies.