Obama administration's quiet reversal on marijuana raids

When Barack Obama took office, his administration promised to revisit the marijuana-enforcement policies of the Bush administration, especially on drug raids in states with limited legalization.  If they have changed anything, it hasn’t been to stop the raids, but they have made one significant change: the Department of Justice has stopped talking about them.  The Daily Caller reports that raids are continuing in states like Colorado and California, but not the press releases:

Despite campaign promises to the contrary, the Department of Justice under President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder hasn’t stopped raiding marijuana dispensaries operating in states where sale of the drug is legal for medical purposes. But the DOJ has demonstrated one marked change now that it’s under Democratic control: The department has stopped publicizing medical marijuana raids, both by requesting that more cases be sealed under court order and by refusing to distribute press releases.

Late last week, DEA and FBI agents raided five medical marijuana dispensaries in Nevada. In July, DEA agents raided the home of 65-year-old Mendocino County, California, grower Joy Greenfield and confiscated plants, money, and her computer. Also in July, DEA agents raided the home of a couple in Michigan who were licensed by the state to use marijuana, as well as three medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego. In Januaryand  February of this year, the DEA raided two medical marijuana research labs in Colorado.

In all of the above cases, the DEA and the U.S. Attorneys’ offices issued no press releases and held no press conferences. The websites for DEA and the U.S. Attorneys’ offices in Detroit, Denver, Northern California, and Los Angeles (which also handles cases in Nevada) make no mention of the above dispensary raids, but do feature news releases for raids, arrests, and investigations involving harder drugs, as well marijuana trafficking, which is illegal in all states.

One reason that the cases don’t get much publicity is that the DoJ has been requesting that courts seal records in the cases:

The increasing use of court orders to seal records strikes some drug reformers as a politicization of the justice system. They point to the fact that the DEA made no arrests in the case of the two labs shut down in Colorado, in the five dispensary raids in Nevada, or in the case of 65-year-old Joy Greenfield, and yet every single case was sealed under court order.

According to Courtney, “If there was a reason to protect an informant, if information was going to be put out that was going to damage the investigation, they would seal it.” When asked if it was unusual to request a court-ordered seal for a case where there were no arrests, a top DOJ official said that “it is not unusual to have cases sealed even if there aren’t related arrests.”

How people feel about this probably relates directly to their feeling about marijuana legalization.  Those who oppose it will likely feel happy to see this Obama promise go unfulfilled.  Those who want legalization, or at least federal decriminalization, will find this to be another betrayal of Obama’s campaign commitments.  While never a major campaign issue, Obama’s stance on ending drug raids in these states gave his supporters an argument for Obama’s supposed libertarian streak.

The reality, though, is exactly the opposite.  Even if one supports these drug raids, the increasing secrecy surrounding them is hardly a healthy development, although the Daily Caller doesn’t provide many statistics to prove that trend.  There may be good reasons to seal case records; in fact, one could think of more than a few good reasons on a case-by-case basis.  However, if indeed this is becoming the rule, then it prompts the question as to whether the case in fact warrants such secrecy or whether the Department of Justice would rather have these raids fly under the radar.