Four months ago, the Obama administration made headlines by publicly announcing that it would not attempt to enforce federal marijuana laws in states that legalized its use, at least where suspects comply with the state law. Among those states affected was Colorado, and suppliers of “medical” marijuana rejoiced in their newfound freedom from federal threats. Unfortunately for one such supplier, he rejoiced a little too loudly and incurred the wrath of the DEA:
Federal drug-enforcement agents Friday raided the home of a Highlands Ranch man who a day earlier bragged in a 9News report about the large and profitable medical-marijuana-growing operation in his basement.
Along with the raid, Jeffrey Sweetin, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s special agent in charge of the Denver office, sent a message to anyone involved in Colorado’s increasingly profitable medical-marijuana industry.
“It’s still a violation of federal law,” Sweetin said. “It’s not medicine. We’re still going to continue to investigate and arrest people.”
That wasn’t exactly the message the DEA and the White House sent in October:
Federal drug agents won’t pursue pot-smoking patients or their sanctioned suppliers in states that allow medical marijuana, under new legal guidelines to be issued Monday by the Obama administration.
Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical marijuana in strict compliance with state law.
The guidelines to be issued by the department do, however, make it clear that agents will go after people whose marijuana distribution goes beyond what is permitted under state law or use medical marijuana as a cover for other crimes, the officials said.
Maybe this is the new version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. If you’re warm and happy in a pile of buds, keep your mouth shut. In any reading of this announcement, it would seem that the feds are mostly disinterested in pursuing pot growers unless they’re exporting business across state lines — which really should be the extent of their interest, anyway. However, Sweetin gives an entirely different interpretation of DEA policy to the Denver Post:
“Technically, every dispensary in the state is in blatant violation of federal law,” he said. “The time is coming when we go into a dispensary, we find out what their profit is, we seize the building and we arrest everybody. They’re violating federal law; they’re at risk of arrest and imprisonment.”
In other words, the time is coming when the DEA plans to do exactly what they stated they would not do in October. Will the Obama administration provide us with scorecards, please? It’s getting difficult to keep up with the expiration dates.
Radley Balko and Jacob Sullum expressed a great deal of skepticism four months ago about the Obama administration’s sudden move towards federalism. It looks as though that skepticism was prescient. While the federal government is giving foreign terrorists Miranda warnings, they’re raiding local pot growers and continuing one of the least defensible components of the war on drugs. If we can no longer rely on Obama’s word to allow a sort of benign neglect as a means towards local control, then Congress needs to act to stop wasting resources in states that clearly don’t want that kind of interference in their lives. (via John Holowach’s Twitter feed)
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