Why Is the DEA Trying to Cover Up the Agency's Medical Marijuana Raids?


The Drug Enforcement Administration raided two medical marijuana dispensaries in California yesterday. The agency is now refusing to disclose any details of the raid, according to Redding.com

Federal drug agents Wednesday raided a pair of medical marijuana collectives in Anderson and Mount Shasta.

DEA agents served federal search warrants at the Green Heart locations in both cities, Special Agent Casey Rettig said.

However, documents relating to the warrants and the warrants themselves are sealed in federal court, Rettig said. She couldn't provide a court case number.

Owner Gina Munday was notified by her alarm company Wednesday morning, thinking someone had broken in, she said. The DEA officers had kicked in the door, she said.

"They broke all the windows, vandalized the inside of the building and took all of the medicine," Munday said. "We were so surprised."

As with dozens of other DEA raids on medical marijuana businesses, no one was arrested at either dispensary, yet all documentation concerning the raid–the warrant, inventory of seized assets, and the incident report–were sealed by court order at the DEA and respective U.S. Attorney's request. 

This is all part of a strategy that dates back to at least 2009. It goes like this: With permission from the U.S. Attorney's office, the DEA raids a dispensary, seizing marijuana but also cash and electronics; it makes no arrests, but asks a judge to seal every document pertaining to the operation and refuses to talk about it with the press. This has two effects: It implies that an investigation is ongoing (even if it's not); more perniciously, it makes it difficult to learn where and how often these raids are happening. 

Two years ago, when I worked at The Daily Caller, I did a comparison of local reports of raids versus press releases from the DEA and U.S. Attorney's offices. Here's what I found: 

Late last week, DEA and FBI agents raided five medical marijuana dispensaries in Nevada. In July, DEA agents raided the home of 65-year-old Mendocino County, California, grower Joy Greenfield and confiscated plants, money, and her computer. Also in July, DEA agents raided the home of a couple in Michigan who were licensed by the state to use marijuana, as well as three medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego. In January and  February of this year, the DEA raided two medical marijuana research labs in Colorado.

In all of the above cases, the DEA and the U.S. Attorneys' offices issued no press releases and held no press conferences. The websites for DEA and the U.S. Attorneys' offices in Detroit, Denver, Northern California, and Los Angeles (which also handles cases in Nevada) make no mention of the above dispensary raids, but do feature news releases for raids, arrests, and investigations involving harder drugs, as well marijuana trafficking, which is illegal in all states.

According to Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes, this is one of the more notable differences at Obama's DOJ, where Bush-appointee Michele Leonhart is now Obama's choice to run the Drug Enforcement Agency. "There was a time under the Bush administration that [the DEA and U.S. Attorneys] were quite proud of their attempts to undermine state marijuana laws," Hermes told The Daily Caller.

"Either these are rogue DEA agents and U.S. Attorneys operating in violation of Holder's memo, or the DEA and the DOJ want to be able to go about continuing a policy of undermining state marijuana laws without drawing attention."

While the lack of press releases and the use of sealed records are two different issues, they go hand in hand. Sealing a record gives the DEA and the DOJ a perfectly legitimate reason to say no comment to whoever raises questions about these operations, even if the records are sealed on spurious grounds. Joy Greenfield, mentioned above, was never arrested, yet the files surrounding her case were sealed at the DEA's request. Is the investigation into her grow operation ongoing? Are there any charges pending against her? Was she involved in a gang? The DEA won't say–can't say!–because her file was sealed by court order shortly after her home was raided. 

As a result, tax payers, dispensary owners, caregivers, and sick people are all left in the dark about why these raids are happening, and more importantly, what the DEA does with the assets it seizes.

"They know the raids aren't popular with the public and that bringing people to court provides more news hooks for the press to write about their extremely unpopular activities," says LEAP's Tom Angell in an email.

"At the same time, they do these smash and grabs to try to intimidate the industry out of existence. The career drug war bureaucrats at DEA are terrified of the increasing public acceptance of legal, regulated and taxed marijuana sales. They want to stop it before it's too late and too many members of the public see that medical marijuana centers improve public safety and neighborhoods and decide that we should just legalize marijuana for adult use."

And while I don't know how the two might tie together, it's interesting that at the same time the DOJ is sealing records of raids (including warrants, affidavits, incident reports, and inventories of seized items), FOIA denials at the DEA have gone through the roof.