Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana legislation on the books.Voters and/or lawmakers in each of these states have decided that the benefits of patients having access to marijuana as medicine outweigh the drawbacks. Though some of these states are being slow to get the industry actually moving, they’ve taken a big step by making it law. Still, the federal government is looking down its nose, casting approving looks and threatening action. In fact, the feds care so much that they are shelling out $1 million to shut down a single medical marijuana dispensary.
In the face of massive amounts of evidence pointing toward the beneficial properties of marijuana, the drug is still considered a highly addictive and dangerous Schedule I drug by the federal government. As long as it is classified as a Schedule I substance, medical marijuana laws in the aforementioned states will be against federal law. And as long as that is true, federal law enforcement will move in on dispensaries and federal prosecutors will press charges.
Despite promises to the contrary, more marijuana dispensary raids and prosecutions have taken place under President Obama than any other president. And while shutting down these dispensaries is said to be a “low priority”, the feds are showing us otherwise.
This is most evident when you look at the cost of a single raid.
The Cost of Shutting Down a Medical Marijuana Dispensary
The Atlantic did just that, profiling the cost of federal enforcement against one dispensary owner—Matthew R. Davies. Davies operated a dispensary in California. He followed the rules. He paid taxes. He had accountants, compliance lawyers, used a payroll firm, and managed a staff of 75. He was a law-abiding business man. He, like many other dispensary operators and medical marijuana users, believed the federal government would leave him alone if he followed the laws of the state of California. He was wrong.
Federal agents raided his business and arrested Davies. The U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, Benjamin B. Wagner (ironically an Obama nominee) sought a lengthy sentence in a federal institution. If he was sentenced to the minimum 5 years being sought, The Atlantic says that these are just some of the costs incurred:
- $250,000 for his incarceration
- Lost tax revenue from his business
- Two young girls without their father for five years
- Increased business for black market marijuana dealers
- Costs associated with patients who must now go elsewhere for their medicine
- And the opportunity cost of focusing on Davies’ prosecution rather than other crimes
And what are the real benefits of shuttering his shop? It seems the only benefit is enforcement of the law for the sake of enforcement, for sending a message to other dispensary operators that even if they abide by state law, Uncle Sam will still take their livelihood and incarcerate them.
Perhaps most disappointing is that Davies is only one of many. The federal authorities have raided dispensaries in several states and sought to imprison business owners who have violated no state laws. It’s in instances like this that we see just how dedicated the feds are to keeping their Drug War alive.