Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Head Shop Fury

From Los Angeles comes word of the latest ministrations from the Obama administration:

Federal authorities on Tuesday took legal action against 71 medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles County, part of an ongoing campaign to crack down on the establishments.

“Over the past several years, we have seen an explosion of commercial marijuana stores -– an explosion that is being driven by the massive profits associated with marijuana distribution,” said U.S. Atty. AndrĂ© Birotte Jr. in a statement.  “As today’s operations make clear, the sale and distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and we intend to enforce the law. Even those stores not targeted today should understand that they cannot continue to profit in violation of the law.”

Marijuana is a lot less profitable when sold on the black market, of course. There's more -- see if you can figure out the problem:

Last year, California's four U.S. attorneys announced that they were taking aim at large-scale growers and dispensary owners who are raking in millions of dollars while falsely claiming that their medical marijuana operations comply with state law, which does not allow for-profit sales.

In the early days of President Obama's tenure, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that prosecutors would not target medical marijuana users and caregivers as long as they followed state laws. But as the risk of prosecution diminished, storefront dispensaries and enormous growing operations proliferated in California, often in brazen defiance of zoning laws and local bans.
So when did the federal government get into the business of enforcing zoning laws, or local bans? And which laws rule -- the federal laws or the local ones? No matter what you think of medical marijuana, and I think it's a dodge for a lot of people who just like smoking dope, the blurring of these distinctions is always problematic, in whatever realm it happens. It's no concern of mine if you are a person who likes smoking dope. Abusive federal power? Now that's a concern.

I'll have to rely on our California correspondents to tell us if these head shops medical marijuana dispensaries are actually causing problems for the commonweal, but if I were to make a guess, I'd assume they aren't, really. Perhaps if the store help wears a lab coat instead of a Phish concert t-shirt, it might seem a little more copacetic to the feds. By the way, does anyone even call these places head shops any more?


Brian said...

I can't speak to CA, but here in Seattle, we've had a mini-boom in dispensaries about a year ago (mostly in my neighborhood). I think the impact was close to nil. (Particularly given that SPD as a matter of policy won't hassle you about MJ unless you are doing something else to get their attention. People smoke on the street and in parks with some frequency.)

However, WA's laws on medical MJ are far too ambiguous, and dispensaries in particular exist in a legal gray zone. A couple of months ago, the feds sent letters to dispensaries within (I think) 1000 feet of schools that they were in violation of state law, and would get a visit if still open by a certain date. Given the density of most neighborhoods, there is virtually no space in any commercial corridor that is not within 1000 feet of a school. So pretty much every dispensary closed shop.

The co-ops still exist as entities, though, and are (I'd imagine) just in wait and see mode, since there's a decent chance marijuana will be fully legalized under state law in this election.

My general impression is that most of the co-ops here make an honest effort to be on the up-and-up. In part this may be because, frankly, it just isn't hard to get weed here illegally, so it's not like there is a huge untapped market of people waiting to buy it from a store. There's also a big disincentive to try and get a medical card for it if you are a recreational smoker, because that involves putting your name in a state database.

In my opinion, the most dubious activity surrounding medical MJ here are the doctors who are giving out "prescriptions" for a fee. Many of whom are at the forefront of lobbying against the legalization initiative, since that tidy little business would disappear overnight.

Mr. D said...

Interesting synopsis -- thanks for sharing it, Brian!

If it were up to me, I'd just legalize it and be done with it. Enforcement and the gray market you describe with the doctors leads inexorably to corruption that does exponentially more to deform our polity than anyone who is having a smoke does.

Gino said...

in CA there has never been a documented negative impact from a pot shop. (head shops are stores that sell paraphenalia, not dope)...

the laws are clear enough, and the proprietors dont want any trouble to happen to their livelihood, so they keep it all on the up and attempt to be good neighbors.

and yes, the pot shops are non-profit. but that doesnt mean its proprietor has to manage it for free. duh! book keeping work around... ya know???

Mr. D said...

the laws are clear enough, and the proprietors dont want any trouble to happen to their livelihood, so they keep it all on the up and attempt to be good neighbors.

Which makes sense, of course.

Brian said...

I should add that while I am unapologetically in favor of full legalization, I do not expect a utopia to spring forth from it. What I do expect is a real showdown between WA (or CO, or both) and the feds. I'm not sure what form it will take; the DEA does not have the resources to take over from the state and localities for low-level drug policing. But they can certainly throw their weight around with high-profile targets. And some of their interdiction resources might be diverted from borders to state lines.

My hope is that the feds will rapidly realize that this is a battle not worth fighting, and will focus their resources elsewhere. I do not think that is realistic in the short term. But my second-best hope is that enough high profile military-style actions on US soil making the national news every night might just bring around some fence-sitters, particularly in congress.