Federal raids on legal marijuana dispensaries spark questions
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 13:04
California voters chose to legalize medical marijuana in 1996 with Proposition 15, but controversy surrounding the medical uses of the drug continues to this day. Although the use and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes is legal in the state with a permit, the federal government often displays its authority over the state by shutting down marijuana dispensaries. On Monday, April 1, federal agents raised the controversy to a new level when they raided Oaksterdam University, the nation’s first marijuana trade school, which teaches cultivation, edible production and dispensary business. The institution is owned by one of the most prominent proponents of legalized medical marijuana, activist Richard Lee, whose own home, dispensary and marijuana museum were also raided.
The federal government appears to be sending a warning message not only to Californians, but also to national advocates of the legalization movement. By specifically attacking Lee, one of the most influential people in the medical marijuana movement, the federal government proves its willingness to go after any dispensary. Indeed, the Feds have not shown any hesitation in conducting sweeps—according to the Los Angeles Times, they’ve carried out 170 raids since 2009.
By conducting these raids, however, the federal government is taking unnecessary and unethical action. The 10th amendment of our constitution gives states the right to dictate their own laws. Yet, by imposing their authority on harmless issues, the federal government completely condescends the authority of the state. Lee is not a drug lord working the legal system to distribute marijuana; he is a paraplegic who uses marijuana to treat muscle spasticity and understands the medical benefits of the drug. In addition, Lee has put his dispensary earnings toward supporting Proposition 19, a ballot initiative that, if passed, will allow all people over the age of 21 to legally purchase and use up to one ounce of marijuana. Lee’s devotion to the legal process, rather than simply marijuana use, proves that he seeks the opportunity for responsible adults to gain access to medical marijuana in order to benefit as he has.
Instead of wasting time on legal businesses, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) should focus on illegal action. Lee’s business does not pose a threat to any citizen. As a matter of fact, residents argue that the Oakdale area, the location of the raid, has other greater safety issues to be treated. For instance, a local citizen stated in the Los Angeles Times that there is a large amount of illegal gun possession. In the shadow of the marijuana trade, these more pressing matters are being ignored.
Still, the government’s actions do have some credibility. California’s medical marijuana laws are known for being flimsy, as there is no clear rule for how medical marijuana should be distributed. So, it makes sense that the federal government would feel compelled to check on major cultivation and dispensary businesses. Nevertheless, federal raids are probably more trouble than they are worth. The federal government raids dispensaries in order to protect citizens. However, the more legal dispensaries that are shut down, the more people are going to pursue illegal sources for marijuana. This will fuel the illegal economy, producing less income for the government and more danger for U.S. citizens.
In addition, if the aim of the federal government’s raid on Lee’s assets was to hamper efforts at national legalization, it was probably a bad idea. The raid triggered so much anger among medical marijuana users that the movement for national legalization has actually increased in an attempt to stop further raids.
The raid has also uncovered a discrepancy in President Obama’s position on medical marijuana use. During his 2008 campaign, he promised not to prosecute medical marijuana users who comply with state law. So, in addition to highlighting the federal government’s tendency to abuse power when it comes to drug-related issues, the raid is also a prime example of Obama’s inability to stick to his promises.
The federal government should only extend its power over the states when it is at the people’s best interest, as opposed to raiding legal marijuana dispensaries that do not pose a threat to any citizen. If the federal government plans to continue pursuing irrational raids on legal dispensaries and citizens’ private homes in California, it should be on the lookout for the very thing it seeks to prevent: rising support for national legalization. Consequently, it may be difficult for politicians who lack the acceptance of legal marijuana to win elections. Whether we like it or not, marijuana has and will continue to shape our political world.