Obama's DEA Needs to Stop Raiding Medical Marijuana Dispensaries
By now, you've probably heard about the DEA's full-scale assault on medical marijuana dispensaries in Montana on Monday. You're probably asking yourself what the hell happened to Obama's promise that state laws allowing medical marijuana would be respected, and I'm going to answer that question as best I can.
The big problem here seems to be that Montana's medical marijuana law doesn't explicitly authorize dispensaries. Claiming (as some have) that these businesses are perfectly legal under state law isn't exactly accurate, and thus DEA could argue that their actions are consistent with the Attorney General's pledge to intervene only when state laws are violated.
Similarly, when raids occur in states that do explicitly authorize dispensing, the implication (theoretically substantiated by sealed records) is that those operations were shady somehow. I'm not defending the DEA's actions by any means, but merely trying to shed light why some places are raided, while most are left alone. There actually is a policy in place, but it's impossibly vague and its enforcement is seldom accompanied by any explanation from the people calling the shots.
But let's get one thing straight: DEA intervention is unnecessary and intolerable regardless of whether or not violations of state law are taking place. DEA is a federal agency and has no business interpreting local laws that they don't even have authority to enforce. States have all the tools they need to address violations of their own laws. It's absurd to even pretend as through DEA is merely assisting in that process, since questions surrounding state law are irrelevant in federal court either way. There exists no logical role for federal enforcement at any stage in the process, the potential for abuse is dramatic, and no recourse exists in the event that a lawful business is targeted erroneously.
The bottom line is that few, if any, among us really understand what constitutes a fair raid under the current federal guidelines. Each subsequent high profile DEA attack on the medical marijuana community further fuels the public perception that the deeply unpopular war on patients is continuing under Obama's watch. It's a hideous thing to behold and the President's own words about not wasting resources on exactly this kind of crap come quickly to mind as the DEA continues to make headlines for smashing up dispensaries in medical marijuana states.
There's nothing surprising about DEA's behavior throughout all of this (we know what to expect from them), but I do think the White House would be wise to regroup and see if more can't be done to keep federal fingerprints off the medical marijuana issue entirely. Obama's reelection campaign will coincide with an aggressive push for full legalization in multiple states and anything he can do to appear less than hostile to an enormous segment of his base will serve him well. A reputation for hypocrisy with regards to medical marijuana will undermine the President's ability to pick up points as young voters turn out in large numbers to support reform measures in 2012.
As the movement for marijuana reform grows ever larger, so do the political risks associated with standing in our way. If Obama has any intention of learning to deal intelligently with the changing politics of marijuana, his first step is to end the federal war on patients, and to do so clearly and decisively.