The Nuance Of Medical Marijuana Raids In California
One of Obama’s campaign promises was to stop federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries which were allowed by state law. Many pundits (myself included) have been lambasting him for not living up to that promise based upon stories like these:
Police raids on medical marijuana dispensaries continue–and continue with federal help, despite an Obama promise to end federal raids on state-legal medical pot dealers.
Of course, Obama gave his Justice Department a loophole, with Attorney General Eric Holder saying back in March that his DEA’s resources would “go after those people who violate both federal and state law….Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that’s inconsistent with federal and state law.” This was a way to live up to Obama’s promise that federal raids on people who were not violating their own state’s law regarding medical marijuana would cease.
Unfortunately, so far it’s hard to know how serious to take this promise in relation to these latest L.A. raids, since the federal agents’ role in the raids on two Westside pot dispensaries (and their owners’ private homes) is still unexplained as of this writing. As the San Jose Mercury News reports.
Authorities are not saying why they raided two medical marijuana clinics and arrested the operator at his Los Angeles home. Jeffrey Joseph was free on bail Thursday, one day after local and federal agents searched his home and the dispensaries in Los Angeles and Culver City. Agents seized 450 plants and hundreds of pounds of marijuana products.
Spokespeople for the Drug Enforcement Administration, Los Angeles police, and the U.S. attorney say they don’t know what Joseph was book on. County prosecutors released no details.
Distributing medical pot is legal under California law but it’s a federal crime. However, the U.S. attorney general has said he wouldn’t target distributors unless state and federal laws were broken. County prosecutors say the task force was acting on a state warrant.
There’s a little history here. Medical Marijuana dispensaries have become much more common in Los Angeles over the last few years due to several loopholes and exemptions that made it possible for them to open quickly. The city council has been trying recently to cut down on these loopholes in order to reduce the number of operating dispensaries, but their own legal exemptions are making it very hard to do this quickly.
So how to close these shops without having to go through arduous examinations of dispensaries’ “hardship exemption” applications? Simple, prove they’ve been doing something else to break the guidelines. On the bright side, they can then call in the big guns at the DEA to lend a hand! It’s win-win for the City Council and the Feds (and a big LOSE for the dispensary owners and their customers, of course).
Sadly, many of the dispensaries are making the job easy on the city. A personal acquaintance of mine is a CPA and runs the books for several of these dispensaries, and this is his take on the matter:
The more I interact within this industry the more I realize how illegal most of these operations are. The state attorney general set up specific guidelines, as did the state board of equalization, that would allow an owner to operate freely without fear of raids & prosecution. The key issue in these operations is transparency, which most dispensaries fail to realize. Those operations that have their doors and books open to state and city regulators are never harassed. The clubs that operate outside of the guidelines are always targeted. And from a accounting and tax standpoint, it’s extremely simple to figure out who is operating by the book and who’s not.
I tell all my new clients to always be aware of the fact that the board of equalization is keeping a close eye on the industry to ensure that every sale is taxed and that every penny is sent to the state. The state BOE is in bed with the Feds and have no problem calling for the leg-breakers (the IRS) when they feel they’re being ripped off; which in most cases they are.
These raids are a violent and disruptive elucidation of one critical aspect of business in our government-dominated world — your business exists at the pleasure of the state. If they want to find a reason to come after you, they will find a reason to come after you, or manufacture one. There are a lot of regulations attached to any business, and even more to the medical marijuana industry. If they’re watching, they’ll catch you breaking one of them:
The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.
This is the modern equivalent to catching Al Capone on tax evasion, when there wasn’t enough to bust him on the charges of bootlegging (and everything else he was involved in). Obama’s not technically breaking his promise here, but he’s still offering to bring in the big guns and prosecute pot dispensaries if they violate tax laws. He’s violating the spirit of the promise.