Hitting the wrong target?

The DEA and the U.S. Attorney for Northern California seem to have chosen a very odd target for the first in their new series of raids on California’s billion-dollar “medical marijuana” racket.

I’m not unsympathetic with the impulse among Federal law enforcement agencies to crack down on the billion-dollar-a-year California “medical marijuana” industry, which mostly serves non-medical users and which is dominated by for-profit businesses, in violation of state as well as federal law. And the approach of identifying major players not in compliance with state law and writing letters to them and their landlords telling them they have 45 days to get outta Dodge seems like the right way to do it.

Making a raid on a growing operation with home delivery – eliminating both the problems of sourcing from Mexico and the problems generated by retail stores – and which (apparently) is organized as a true not-for-profit co-op, in full compliance with state and local law, seems like making progress backwards.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

17 thoughts on “Hitting the wrong target?”

  1. California “medical marijuana” industry, which mostly serves non-medical users

    Says who? Like Granny Clampett’s Rhumatiz medicine, it’s for medicinal use only, don’cha know! Besides, mj is helpful in the relief of pretty much any symptom ibuprofen might be used for, and I wouldn’t classify ibuprofen takers as “non-medical users” of that drug. Beyond that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone offer a compelling reason why the rest of us should care about someone else’s use of mj for any reason any more than we should care about their use of ibuprofen, for instance.

    1. Why should the rest of us care? Because this is a Puritan nation. Mencken defined Puritanism as “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” We can’t allow that! Lock ’em up and ruin their lives if they try.

      1. Yeah, basically. Notice how Professor Kleiman misses the forest for the trees here. The starting point is “people are ENJOYING their pot rather than treating illnesses, and we can’t have that”.

        No. Now I’m not near full blown libertarian. If instead what were talking about was an argument that said that a particular marijuana dispensary was associated with crime, or was selling impure product that was making people sick, or was dealing to children, or was manipulating THC levels to cause addiction, and the DOJ decided to target THAT dispensary, I could defend it even though I don’t like the federal drug laws.

        But people having FUN is not a legitimate reason to bring in federal law enforcement, even if they are technically having fun in violation of a law that says that marijuana can never be used for one’s enjoyment.

  2. “And the approach of identifying major players not in compliance with state law and writing letters to them and their landlords telling them they have 45 days to get outta Dodge seems like the right way to do it.”

    Seems to me that the feds trying to enforce state laws a state lacks interest in enforcing, is as much (Or as little) an offense as the states attempting to enforce federal laws the federal government doesn’t want enforced.

    1. That isn’t quite what’s happening. In theory, they were deciding whether or not to enforce federal law – of which all these dispensaries are in violation – on the basis of how objectionable these places’ behavior was otherwise, including violations of the state laws governing “medical” marijuana.

      After the feds cast an incredibly wide net with the letters they sent, the first raids they actually carried out seemed to follow such a pattern, and to be completely defensible: they were going after large, for-profit dispensaries that were indiscriminate in their clientele; careless in their operating procedures, staffing, and reporting; and sold intoxicants other than weed (hash was seized in the initial raids).

      A crackdown on that sort of activity was a lot easier to defend than is a raid on a non-profit home-delivery service providing palliative marijuana to the ailing and housebound.

  3. As often as I agree with Mark, this seems nuts to me. Shutting down a safe alternative to alcohol for … why? Not saying pot does no harm. People are going to use. Pot appears to substitute, somewhat, for booze. Legal access obviously crowds black markets.

    I’m still missing what’s not to like about that.

  4. Jamie,
    In my personal experience, alcohol use and marijuana use go hand in hand, as marijuana is one of only of two hangover cures (the other being alcohol). Are there any proper studies which suggest that weed is a substitute for alcohol?

    1. Jamie and Former Student: This is an issue about which there is a great deal of speculation and little data. One can say though that at least with U.S. teenagers, the prevalence for alcohol and pot have moved in tandem for decades rather than in opposite directions.

      1. Anecdotally, the more you puff the less you drink. Sleepiness is one of the things ‘selectively potentiated’ by cannabis + alcohol. How many would-be alcoholics are stoners instead? That’s public health savings to put in your pipe and smoke.

  5. “sold intoxicants other than weed (hash was seized in the initial raids).”

    Wait, what? Hashish is just another form of marijuana; it’s basically just concentrated THC crystals. Are you suggesting that this ISN’T covered by Prop 215?

    1. For some reason, I had the impression that hashish involved opium, which it apparently does not, As you say.

      I would question whether (partly) purified THC is appropriate for distribution as “medical marijuana”. People with a legitimate medical need for purified THC can get FDA-approved preparations. The claim made by advocates of medical marijuana (as opposed to advocates of recreational marijuana) is that purified THC is not comparable to marijuana for effectiveness or convenience.

      This is of course entirely separate from the question of recreational marijuana. I support the legalization of recreational marijuana; it’s the rampant disingenuousness and hypocrisy of many users and advocates of “medical marijuana” that offends me. Currently in California, if you’re middle-class and willing to lie (without fooling anyone) you can get safe quasilegal access to weed; if you aren’t willing to lie, you have to go the illegal route. There’s something fundamentally messed up in all this.

      1. Yes, there is something fundamentally messed up in all this, but what is messed up is having drug prohibition, not the users and advocates of medical marijuana. The government forces them to be disingenuous and hypocritical if they want something that the government has no business denying them. If the government enacted a law requiring you to whistle Dixie in order to purchase broccoli, and you wanted broccoli, then would you find it disingenuous and hypocritical to whistle Dixie even if you hated the song? You do what you gotta do.

        1. By the way, I hope that no one considers my analogy of marijuana prohibition and broccoli prohibition to be absurd. Broccoli causes flatulence, so it would actually be less absurd for the government to lock people up for possession of broccoli than it does for it to lock people up for possession of marijuana.

  6. Mark: “Making a raid on a growing operation with home delivery – eliminating both the problems of sourcing from Mexico and the problems generated by retail stores – and which (apparently) is organized as a true not-for-profit co-op, in full compliance with state and local law, seems like making progress backwards.”

    Mark, you’ve covered drug policy for decades, and you’re surprised by the nature of the War on Drugs?

  7. That’s how the feds operate: hit the most legit, push those with something to lose out of the game, ensuring that only the most marginal operators are in business. Rinse, repeat.

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