Yesterday's DEA raids on two medical marijuana dispensaries in West Hollywood—which the Los Angeles Times calls "the first such action in the city since the Obama administration decided two years ago to take a hands-off approach to dispensaries that abide by state laws"—further illustrate the point I made in my post about Monday's raids in Montana: When the Justice Department says it will leave patients and providers alone if they are complying with state law, it means state law as understood by the DEA, not state law as understood by state officials. In 2008, when he was California's attorney general, Jerry Brown issued guidelines (PDF) that approved nonprofit dispensaries operated as "cooperatives" or "collectives." Both of the dispensaries raided yesterday were licensed by the city of West Hollywood. By treating them as criminal organizations, the DEA is overriding the judgments of state and local officials about what California law allows. It does not have to do that. Even under the half-assed policy announced by the Justice Department in October 2009, the feds could (and should) leave the application and enforcement of state law to state officials, raiding an operation only when those officials consider it illegal.
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