Crackdown includes dispensaries in locations in King, Pierce and Thurston counties
DEA agents, along with federal and local police officers, raided multiple marijuana dispensaries Tuesday under federal law that prohibits owners to distribute, sell and use medical marijuana.
The coordinated sweep involved raids of five dispensaries in Pierce County, five dispensaries in Thurston County and at least six dispensaries in Seattle.
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."
Local medical marijuana users were surprised at the raids.
"I'm in shock because now I have no pain medicine," Cameron Christenson said outside of the Cannabis Co-op on Rainier Avenue.
Christenson suffers from chronic pain after having 17 surgeries on his leg for an infection that doctors have been unable to cure.
He was on a portable morphine pump for two years and became addicted to the opiate. When he couldn't kick the habit, his doctor prescribed medical marijuana to ease his pain.
"I can think of 100 crack houses in town — why don't you go raid them?" he asked.
"It means people are going to have to go back out on the street and you don't know what you're getting," Christenson said. "It's going to be a nightmare."
Roy Fleetwood arrived at the dispensary to find its doors locked.
"It's a sad day for medical marijuana users," he said. Fleetwood purchases pot brownies and other marijuana edibles for digestive issues. He's has been a medical marijuana user for the past six months.
"This is a great collective garden here and they have 'medibles' and just coming here and shutting it down is absolutely ridiculous," Fleetwood said.
Another medical marijuana user, Ben Holcomb, thinks it's OK that officials go after illegal dealers but does not think they should turn their focus to dispensaries.
"I think the DEA should be targeting those that are selling to those that do not have a medical marijuana license," Holcomb said. Holcomb uses medical marijuana to alleviate arthritis pain in his knee.
"Those people [selling on the black market], are going to be thrilled today," he said. "Their profits just went up."
A news release from the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force said they had been investigating storefronts in the area that were operating as illegal dispensaries for the past five months in what they termed "Operation Green Sweep." Officials made numerous purchases of marijuana from the dispensaries. As a result, detectives secured search warrants for the businesses.
The task force arrested 17 people, who were booked for unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver.
The DEA issued a statement in regard to Tuesday's raids that said:
"It has never been our policy to target individuals with serious illnesses ... The DEA remains committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in all states."
The statement iterated the DEA's right to exercise its "investigative authority to pursue criminal actions for any violation of federal law, when warranted." The department's investigations can include any individual or organization that "grow, manufacture or distribute any illegal drug to include marijuana, and those who rent or maintain a property to facilitate drug trafficking."
STATE LAWS V. FEDERAL LAWS
The state of Washington is one of 16 states, along with the District of Columbia, that has passed legislation permitting medical marijuana use. However, that doesn’t translate into "legalization" of marijuana use, its growth and distribution.
"Marijuana, even medical marijuana, is not legal under federal law, regardless of what our state law says," a spokesperson from Gov. Christine Gregoire's office said in regard to Tuesday's raids.
"Until that changes, there is not a system to supply legitimate patients who may need medical marijuana. The governor has committed to seek a change in federal law for medical marijuana and it is a path she will continue to pursue."
U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkin's office released a statement that said the businesses served with search warrants Tuesday "attracted the attention of federal law enforcement for a number of reasons: their 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."
Some of the businesses that were targeted had been the subject of community complaints and one person involved with a dispensary was arrested for violating court-ordered terms of his parole for a prior federal conviction.
It has been rumored for a while that there could be a federal crackdown on the dispensaries and grow operations as states and the federal government grapple with how to effectively deal with the legalities surrounding medical marijuana.
Recently, Katrina Pflaumer, former U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, Robert Alsdorf an attorney and retired state Superior Court judge, and Anne Levinson, a former Municipal Court judge and deputy mayor of Seattle, have endorsed Initiative 502, which would decriminalize marijuana in Washington and seek to make "long-overdue change for the better in public policy," the group said in an opinion piece in the Seattle Times. Former Seattle FBI chief Charlie Mandigo has also said he endorses the initiative.
In the November election, residents of Tacoma voted to make marijuana enforcement the lowest priority, passing the measure by a two-thirds vote.
California has escalated the issue to the courts: Medical marijuana advocates have filed lawsuits in California's four federal judicial districts aimed at quickly winning court orders to halt the U.S. attorneys from closing dispensaries, the Los Angeles Times reported.
One of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit, Matt Kumin, said that plaintiffs plan to ask the judges assigned to the cases for temporary restraining orders halting the crackdown of medical marijuana dispensaries.
"The government has gone well down the road to allowing medical cannabis in the United States," Kumin told the Times. "It can't reverse itself now, particularly because of the promises it made to the American people and the federal judiciary. They're stuck."
Lawsuits were filed Friday and Monday against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, DEA head Michele Leonhart and each of the four federal prosecutors, including U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. in Los Angeles.
At the executive level, President Obama and Holder have each said that it is not a priority of the federal government to prosecute or raid medical marijuana users and businesses, while others in federal law enforcement believe they are simply enforcing the law by cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries.
The legal quandary states find themselves in with federal, state or local agencies intent on enforcing federal law is causing ripples nationwide. States may allow for medical marijuana use, yet it is not an FDA-approved drug. And while the president and attorney general may state they have a more lenient view of medical marijuana use, overall the Obama administration opposes drug legalization. In a statement on its website, the official White House policy toes the following line: "Legalization threatens public health by increasing availability of drugs and undermining prevention activities. It also hinders recovery efforts and poses a significant health and safety risk to all Americans, especially our youth. Marijuana is a harmful drug and its use should be prevented and treated — not promoted. Outside the context of Federally approved research, the use and distribution of marijuana is prohibited in the United States."
In these trying times, it’s also hard to turn down the revenue that licensing fees and taxation of medical marijuana businesses could generate for cash-strapped states — it is estimated the state of California could generate annual revenue between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion and annual sales taxes of $50 million to $100 million. While Washington doesn't have the same number of registered dispensaries — there are a little more than 100 registered medical marijuana businesses in King County — the state still could see a sizeable revenue stream if medical marijuana sales and businesses were able to be taxed.
Initial legislation in Washington state decriminalizing marijuana was enacted November 1998. The legislation removes state-level criminal penalties on the use, possession and cultivation of marijuana by patients who possess "valid documentation" from their physician that affirms the person suffers from a debilitating condition and that the "potential benefits of the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks."
The legislation has since gone through various amendments and in the latest legislative session Gregoire vetoed legislation that would have regulated dispensaries.
DISPENSARIES RAIDED NOV. 15, 2011
Green Earth, 10118 224 St. E., Graham, Wash.
Magix Medz, 7824 River Rd. E., Puyallup, Wash.
Herbal Connection, 6204 112th St. E., Puyallup, Wash.
Club 420 North, 11457 Pacific Ave. S., Pacific, Wash.
Evergreen Med'l, 9506 Canyon Rd. E., Tacoma, Wash.
The Healing Center, 316 Capitol Way North, Olympia, Wash.
Olympia Patient Resource Center, 420 Steele St. SE., Olympia, Wash.
Lacey Cross, 4227 Pacific Ave. SE., Lacey, Wash.
Cannabis Outreach Service, 5709 Lacey Blvd. SE. #104, Lacey, Wash.
Triple D's, 21530 Old Hwy 99 SE., Grand Mound area, Wash.
Q13 FOX News Online
11:04 p.m. PST, November 15, 2011
news video story embedded on linked story
"This is demonstrates a disconnect between state and federal laws. While the state of Washington has allowed medical marijuana to be prescribed legally it remains a schedule I substance allowing the DEA complete impunity to prosecute anyone selling this "illegal" substance. Isn't this like saying that it is legal to prescribe a medication but not allowing an organization to sell that medication or manufacture it?
It appears to be completely contradictory to me. I cannot see any real progress until the federal law is changed and MM is decriminalized. Then the states can set regulations and keep the damn feds out the mix entirely".
The second link involves the "gray zone" of Medical Marijuana and speaks to what I am getting at.
The Legislature tried to legalize dispensaries earlier this year, but Gov. Christine Gregoire vetoed the bill. This has left Washington in an untenable position: on one hand, we say that legitimate patients can use marijuana, but on the other, we don’t really let them obtain it.
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DEA raids multiple Seattle-area pot dispensaries
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