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Read Between the Lines: Why DEA Only Raids Some Dispensaries

Here's the Drug Czar's blog gloating over the DEA's raid of the Local Patient's Cooperative in Hayward, CA:

The DEA took down another illegal marijuana dispensary in California. The owners were selling pot for profit under the guise of "medicinal use." Police seized pot cookies and expensive cars. More here (with video).

Notice the careful language used here. We're told that this was an "illegal marijuana dispensary" that used medical use as a "guise" to make money. As dispensary raids have increased in recent months, DEA has claimed each time that they're targeting clubs that engage in recreational sales. Similarly, ONDCP's blog post clearly implies that LPC was uniquely criminal in its conduct.

In other words, DEA and now ONDCP are tacitly condoning dispensaries that only sell to patients!

In both word and deed they are suggesting that dispensaries which follow California State law will generally not be targeted, despite the fact that federal law draws no such distinction. Obviously, this informal policy is driven not by compassion for the sick, but rather an acceptance of the political reality that the public won't tolerate continued assaults on patient access itself.

Unfortunately, DEA's willful ignorance of the nuances of legitimate medical marijuana use continues to undermine the value of this apparent compromise. Here's a quote from the article linked by ONDCP, which ironically undermines their whole point:

In the Hayward case, an FBI agent said in a sworn affidavit that officers staked out the Foothill Boulevard location five times in October and November and saw healthy-looking men entering and leaving the building each time, carrying bags the officers believed contained marijuana.
The only other evidence the agent cited to show that the dispensary was selling drugs to non-medical patients was a newspaper article saying police had found 10 times as much marijuana on the premises as the city's rules allowed.

That LPC's customers appeared "healthy looking" is a red herring. Most of the people in any medical setting appear healthy and California allows caretakers to obtain medicine on behalf of sick relatives. Furthermore, the apparent "health" of certain patients could as easily be attributed to their access to effective medicine. Hayward area patients with limited mobility might not be looking so good today.

LPC's excessive supply appears to be the only legitimate issue here and even that falls far short of justifying the conclusion that extra-medical sales were being conducted. Friends at Americans for Safe Access have explained to me that recent DEA activity has resulted more from poorly drafted or non-existent local regulations than from gratuitous improprieties on the part of dispensary owners.

With that in mind, consider what patient and activist Angel Raich had to say in an email:

"I can tell you that Local Patients Group was a really good co-op,
they served a high number of patients, they gave back to the patient
community, and the City of Hayward. This was the first medical cannabis co-op as you come into the SF Bay Area and many patients from the Central Valley and surrounding areas would travel for hours to get their medicine there and this raid has created a hardship for hundreds of patients. They will be missed."

Thank you Angel. If LPC's substantial supply reflects the needs of patients in the region, rather than profiteering by the club's operators, then the effect of the raid is to dramatically undermine legitimate patient access. Morally, there's a big difference between exceeding supply limits for the purpose of supplying patients, as opposed to engaging in recreational sales surreptitiously. Yet LPC's conduct was presumed to indicate the later and not the former.

In sum, federal authorities are admitting a distinction between medical and recreational sales, which shows that their position has been weakened. But they're failing to draw this distinction accurately and their newfound enthusiasm for busting "illegal" dispensaries has led to a recent increase in raids.

Federal charges mean that dispensary operators will have no opportunity to defend their adherence to state and local laws anyway, so the DEA's public justification for the raid becomes irrelevant after the fact. Meanwhile, reduced patient access shifts the burden to the remaining dispensaries, increasing their chances of running afoul of local ordinances and becoming the next target.

Ironically, Congressional debate over the Hinchey Amendment, which would solve this problem entirely, still focuses on whether marijuana is medicine; a fact that the DEA has already tacitly admitted.

United States
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I don't know that they're drawing a distinction. They certainly know that public perception is important so they need to word things carefully, but take a look at the wording again:

The DEA took down another illegal marijuana dispensary [since it's illegal under federal law, they could call any dispensary illegal] in California. The owners were selling pot for profit [If you make money, that's a profit. Non-profit organizations and hospitals sell things for profit. How much profit was made and why is that wrong?]. under the guise of "medicinal use." [Since the feds don't acknowledge medicinal benefit, anything done under medical laws in California would be, in their mind, under the "guise" of medicinal use.] Police seized pot cookies [put in there to make is sound like recreation rather than medicine] and expensive cars [Again is selling for a profit wrong? And who how the cars were financed?]

They could use that paragraph to describe any marijuana dispensary that sells pot to sick people and where people park their cars at the dispensary.

I should have been more clear.

I realize that the wording allows for this interpretation. Like I said, it was "carefully" worded. But most people interested in the subject know that there are countless medical dispensaries in California and only some are being raided.

For me, the language they use implies that this dispensary was shadier than the others, though it was written to allow for your interpretation as well (probably to avoid the exact accusation I've made).

If you've read each account of the recent raids as I have, you know that my point stands. They're primarily only raiding clubs when they have some indication (however vague) that there's more than medical activity taking place.

DEA's reliance on the recreational excuse is a dramatic shift in rhetoric that warrants discussion.

Need Help

I just want to let people know that I have been posting alot of arcticles from the Drug War Chronicle on Netscape.
I could really use some help from anyone who is on Netscape or would like to participate.
If you go to you can sign up for free. My posts usually get pretty good exposure with many friendly responses.I usually submit a story at least once a week,my goal is to keep our cause constantly in the public eye.My name on Netscape is mntnman444,so if you'd care to join,I would appreciate all the help I can get in getting as much news (truth) out there as I can.

PS- We all have a friend on Netscape,it's Wil Wheaton from Star Trek TNG.His screen name is Wil

The DEA's "Discredit / Dismantle / Destroy" Project

I believe the DEA and Feds may be on a mission of trying to discredit medical marijuana by linking it with "shady" use. They know that it has gained momentum in the US, but if they can discredit a certain couple of dispensaries then could toss out propaganda to dismantle the entire movement. BUT -- The people are obviously finding the truth and marijuana DOES have wonderful medical properties. It's only a matter of time... they can't shout down the truth forever!!

tough shit,so a crooked club

tough shit,so a crooked club goes downt

Did you read the above?

I think we've got some good reasons to doubt the DEA's assertions that this club was crooked.

Do you know something we don't?

i guess cuz i am dieing from

i guess cuz i am dieing from cancer,i look ok,dam if we go by looks we are all screwed

borden's picture

Netscape Need Help Comment

Everyone should know that our friend mntnman444 who posted above about needing help on Netscape scored a big one for us this weekend. The story in this week's Chronicle about Texas marijuana prisoner Tyrone Brown, nominated by mntnman444 on Netscape, made it to the number one slot before the end of the link's 24-hour lifetime. More than 13,000 people read that story as a result -- even more would have if we had done a CPU and RAM upgrade to our server prior to it happening rather than during, that's the way it goes with these things sometimes -- the server is ready for this kind of traffic again now, so I hope everyone will join in this effort.

David Borden, Executive Director the Drug Reform Coordination Network
Washington, DC


mntnman444 and I have had more than one positive interchange on pot issues at Netscape. Despite the fact that he is left and I am right (politically).

I'd like to see the whole prohibition discussion taken out of left/right politics.

Too many times when I have tried to make allies on the left it creates friction. Tolerance folks. Create alliances.

mntnman444 is a welcome exception.

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