Last week I asked whether it is reasonable to expect that establishing a state system for licensing and regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in California will protect them from federal interference. I noted that federal prosecutors have shown little inclinatiion to respect state policy in this area, despite Attorney General Eric Holder's assurances (reiterated in congressional testimony on Thursday) that the Justice Department does not plan to target growers and distributors who comply with state law. In response to my post, Rob Kampia of the Marijuana Policy Project argues that, while U.S. attorneys may huff and puff that state law does not matter, the record of actual raids (as opposed to threats) suggests it does:
The key point is that in the three states that have issued state licenses for [medical marijuana] dispensaries [Colorado, Maine, and New Mexico], there have been literally zero federal raids [on licensed operations]….
In the states where there are no state licenses for [medical marijuana] businesses [California, Michigan, Montana, Oregon, and Washington], there have been federal raids. And I'd bet money that there will be more federal raids in most of these five states….
Having a state license has, so far, protected [medical marijuana] businesses from being raided by the feds. At a minimum, this is an important fact to note, even if one wants to be skeptical that this "line of demarkation" between state licenses and no state licenses will continue into the future.
In fact, this "line of demarkation" is so persuasive that it's actually allowed us to move forward with the licensing process of [medical marijuana] dispensaries in [Arizona, the District of Columbia, Vermont, and Rhode Island]. These four developments are a big deal.
In any case, when one wants to talk about [Colorado], it's important to note that there are no federal raids. Rather, it's an instance of a federal official interfering with local zoning, whereby the fed is actually just saying, "I'm not raiding you, and I'm not even shutting you down. I just need you to move a few yards." The folks in [California] would love this kind of treatment by a fed!
I hope Kampia is right. But John Walsh, the U.S. attorney in Colorado, did threaten state-authorized dispensaries and their landlords with forfeiture and prosecution, citing their violation of federal law. Contrary to Holder's claim that "we limit our enforcement efforts to those individuals [and] organizations that are acting out of conformity with state law," Walsh did not argue that the dispensaries were violating state rules. What would have happened if the dispensaries had ignored Walsh's letters?