Several news sources have posted over the last few days about how the recent federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington were especially surprising since Washington voters approved the possession and sales of limited amounts of cannabis back in November.
Several media outlets have conflated the two, when they aren’t the same thing. In fact, Washington has yet to open any recreational dispensaries. Any dispensary that is open now is following the exact same rules they had to follow before I-502 and recreational sales haven’t even begun yet.
So, no. This isn’t the first volley over the bow in response to legalization. This is the continuation of raids on medical marijuana dispensaries and patients by the feds that have happened over the last six years of the Obama administration. In this case, this is literally a continuation of raids conducted on these exact same shops back in 2011.
While the feds haven’t officially announced charges, agents told employees during the raid that it was in relation to money laundering and “illicit marijuana sales” according to several news sources including the Wall Street Journal — which incidentally is one of the news sources falsely connecting recreational legalization with these raids.
As a counter-point – and we’re not saying that the feds were justified here or that these shops were actually doing anything to violate Washington state medical marijuana laws – but if these dispensaries were breaking the law and illegally selling pot out their door, then we can’t fault the feds for targeting them. That’s what regulations are for: to establish what is and what isn’t legal conduct in business – marijuana isn’t unique by any means.
Keep in mind: the feds don’t seem to be busting them solely because they were operating a dispensary. If they wanted to do that, they could have sent letters to all of the existing dispensaries in town and had them shut down within a week. They’ve used that tactic to great success over the last few years on dispensaries in Washington, Colorado and California, though those were specifically targeted because the shops were within 1,000 feet of schools.
Instead, the feds seem to be focused on these Washington shops because the feds claim that the dispensaries were illegally selling cannabis out the door to non-patients. Not that we think that should be a crime, but it is even under current (and soon-to-come) marijuana laws in Washington.
Again, we don’t think that isn’t the case and feel that this this could easily be the feds flexing their muscles. It’s not like we haven’t seen that before. All of this confusion does speak to one thing: our marijuana laws still need a lot of work in this country.
In the meantime, though, these raids don’t make it any more or (less risky) for people currently operating dispensaries in medical marijuana states or for people thinking about opening up a recreational cannabis shop in Washington or Colorado. Your business is and will remain (it seems) federally illegal