California NORML reports that the Drug Enforcement Administration participated in raids this week on 14 medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego County and that two of the 31 people arrested will face federal charges that carry mandatory minimum sentences. But the raids stemmed from a "four-month undercover investigation" by the San Diego District Attorney's Office, which claims (PDF) the dispensaries were not complying with state law. District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis says they were "nothing more than for-profit storefront drug dealing operations run by drug dealers hiding behind the state's medical marijuana law." If so, the DEA's participation would be consistent with Attorney General Eric Holder's avowed policy of targeting medical marijuana providers only when they violate state as well as federal law. Under California law as interpreted by the state Supreme Court, dispensaries are legal only if they are collectives operated by patients authorized to use marijuana as a medicine. If any of the dispensaries were instead for-profit businesses operated by entrepreneurs, they would be illegal—even if customers designated the owners as their "primary caregivers," a strategy the California Supreme Court has rejected.
San Diego authorities are notoriously hostile toward medical marijuana, so they can be expected to deny the legitimacy of a putative cooperative when there is any room for interpretation. In such cases, the DEA remains eager to help. But if Holder's new policy means anything, it means that legitimate cooperatives in more congenial jurisdictions (such as San Francisco) should not have to worry about federal harassment anymore.