Several news sources reported on Wednesday, July 24, 2013, that U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents raided a number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the Puget Sound area. However, DEA Spokesperson Jodie Underwood did not provide details about how many dispensaries were being targeted or how many search warrants were being executed.
These raids come just months after Washington voters passed Initiative 502 (I-502), the marijuana reform measure that legalizes the possession and use of marijuana for recreational purposes within the state. Although the raids are a surprise to many, it is important to remember that marijuana is a Schedule I drug subject to the federal Controlled Substances Act and possession and sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. I-502 does not change this basic fact.
The federal government has not yet explained how it plans to react to I-502. Jenny Durkan, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington (the most senior federal law enforcement official in the federal district encompassing Seattle) issued a statement on December 5, 2012, noting that the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) “is reviewing the legalization initiatives recently passed in Colorado and Washington State” and that the DOJ’s “responsibility to enforce the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged.” She warned that regardless of I-502, “growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.”
The ball is still in the federal government’s court to decide how it will react to I-502. However, based on Wednesday’s raids, those who hope to produce, distribute, or sell marijuana under the licensing regime that is currently being drafted by the Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) should be sure to proceed with caution.