Justice Department Raids Several Washington State Cannabis Dispensaries

Washington, DC: Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, working in conjunction with local law enforcement officials, executed a series of raids on Tuesday on over a dozen storefront cannabis dispensaries operating in Washington state. The raids targeted operations in six cities in the state: Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia, Puyallup, Lacey and Rochester.

The statewide sweep comes on the heels of similar Justice Department led efforts cracking down on the proliferation of medical cannabis providers in California and in Montana. The Department of Justice had previously coordinated raids of some 26 dispensaries operating in 13 cities in Montana this past March.

Washington state voters decided in 1998 in favor of allowing for the use and cultivation of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. However, the law did not legalize retail dispensaries.

State law does allow collective medical marijuana gardens of up to 45 plants, or a maximum of 15 plants per patient. Legislation introduced this year that sought to regulate and license the operation of storefront dispensaries was ultimately vetoed by Democrat Gov. Christine Gregoire.

To date, the federal government has not taken similar prohibitive actions against cannabis dispensaries or state-authorized providers in Colorado, Maine, New Mexico — each of which explicitly license such operations under state law.

A spokesperson for the DEA said that the federal government is not targeting “individuals with serious illness,” but rather “those operating commercial storefronts cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana under the guise of state medical marijuana laws. The DEA remains committed to the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act in all states.”

In March 2009, as a Presidential candidate, Barack Obama pledged to cease utilizing “Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws” that allowed for the physician recommended use of cannabis.

For more information, please contact Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director, or Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500.