Why I Hate Firedoglake

So I just got an email from firedoglake, a blog that I started reading during the healthcare debacle of last year primarily because the editor was appearing repeatedly on The Rachel Maddow Show.

Here's what the email said:

A federally funded drug task force seized as evidence up to 200 petition signatures for marijuana legalization in Washington State in a series of early-morning raids this week. Seizing the petition signatures is bad enough. What's worse is what the task force did on its raids of a legal marijuana dispensary and its owner's home.

Drug agents handcuffed a 14-year-old boy and pointed a gun at his head. Then they took $80 from a 9-year-old girl's Minnie Mouse wallet that she earned for straight A's on her report card.

Now the drug agents - funded by the US Department of Justice - say they can only find two pages of the petition. But they had time to make photocopies of the petition, keeping the names and addresses of residents who signed.


The intended effect of this raid is to put a chill on other citizens from signing the petition, who will fear having their names and addresses exposed to a drug task force. It's intimidation, pure and simple. And your tax dollars are paying for it.

Now this all came as a bit of a surprise to me. As someone who follows the drug war fairly closely, I recalled that last year the Obama administration had made the decision that pursuing medical marijuana growers who were in compliance with state law was not a good use of federal manpower and that it would be de-emphasized. So it was surprising to me that this federal taskforce was going after a medical marijuana dispensary, particularly in my home state where attitudes about The Weed among law enforcement are in my experience pretty lax and where the City of Seattle has more or less decriminalized the possession of small amounts for personal use.

So I did a little bit of research. Would you like to know what I learned?

Of course you would.

1.) First, the raid was conducted by WestNET, which contrary to the implication of the FDL "Call to Action" email (Subject line: "Feds seize 200 legalization petition signatures") are not a federal law enforcement body, but are rather a multi-jurisdictional state and county police drug enforcement task force that is funded by a federal grant. This is an important distinction. For one thing, it means that the officers were operating according to state rather than federal direction. For another it means that FDL is being willfully misleading about the nature of the raid, but more on that in a moment.

2.) The "legal marijuana dispensary" that was raided is called "North End Club 420"
OK, seriously potheads. You know, I know, everybody knows that a big part of "medical" marijuana is that it's the thin end of the wedge for recreational decriminalization. What it is not, however, is ACTUAL recreational decriminalization. So when you get together to grow pot and sell it to people, it's not enough to just say it's for patients, by patients with a nod and a wink. More importantly, naming your group after drug culture slang? That's just asking for trouble.

3.) The reason the club was raided?
Well, aside from the fact that the club's internet forum is littered with the badly spelled postings of dozens of stoned hippies who seem to have very little interest in the actual medicinal properties of pot, there's the fact that the club was raided because undercover investigators allegedly bought weed from the guys who run the place without showing medical authorization. Moreover, apparently the prices were jacked up and the guys running the place were keeping more inventory than dispensary's are allowed to by law. Which means? In layman's terms a couple of dumb hippies thought that they could be pot dealers, slap the label "medical dispensary" on their front door, and everything would be copacetic. Earth to dumb fucking hippies, no that's not how the world works.

4.) So wait you mean that the club was raided because it was violating drug laws and not to seize the I-1098 petitions like FDL says?
That's about the long and the short of it. But let's go through this step by step for folks who are unclear about how this stuff works. When the police go to a judge to get a search warrant, as they are required to do by the Constitution before conducting a raid on any suspected drug den whether it be some heavily fortified crack house full of black folks in hilltop or a storefront pot dealer on Oregon street run by middle aged hippies, they have to tell the judge two things: 1.) They have to explain why they think there is evidence of crimes being committed on the premises and 2.) They have to list everything that they will seize from the property in detail. For drug raids, the list will probably include things like "papers, magazines or books advocating drug legalization" and "cash" among the more heavy items like drugs, guns, dead body parts, bongs, etc. Then when the cops go in, they take everything listed on the warrant. Why do they do this? Because there is really no way to determine on site whether a given piece of paper or stack of cash is or is not evidence. Believe it or not, this is actually a better way for seizures to progress. If police had to determine on site what is and is not evidence, they would end up occupying private property for much longer, meaning that people would be pushed out of their homes for extended periods of time. It's much better that they just go in, take everything, and sort through it elsewhere. As is not made clear in the FDL call to action, but is crystal clear in the other sympathetic reporting on the raid, the cops are happily returning all the non-evidence they seized, including the petitions, and they're working on destroying the copies

5.) Wait so they don't even want the petitions? What about the "chilling effect" that FDL was talking about?
Right, so that brings me to my point: Firedoglake is full of shit. The purpose of the raid was to arrest illegal pot dealers fronting as a dispensary, not to grab 10 pages of signatures for I-1098. How do we know this? Well, for one thing, the filings make it clear that the cops had their eyes on Club 420 for a while before the latest wave of legalization initiatives started cropping up and looking like they would get on the ballot. Second, it takes just a little over 240,000 signatures to get an initiative on the ballot in Washington State. Initiative campaigns usually have about six months to do their signature gathering. Frankly, any initiative campaign trying to legalize pot in Washington that couldn't get that many signatures in a couple of weeks standing around the U District or Capital Hill is probably too disorganized to be successful in the first place. Granted, Sensible Washington seems to be woefully underfunded and disorganized and so their prospects aren't great, moreover the big strategic push right now on the decriminalization front is to topple the first domino in California this fall, so it's a bad year for other states to be looking for help from the big money in the decriminalization movement. Still, it's a step in the right direction and I wish my home state brothers in arms the best of luck. That said, siding with criminal pot dealing hippies and complaining about the enforcement of medical marijuana laws is not the best way to go about a PR campaign for legalization. As one writer in the Tacoma News Tribune put it, medical marijuana without enforcement is a farce, essentially a meaningless sham of a law and so advocates bitching about it being enforced are counterproductively showing their hands and declaring medical marijuana to be little more than a stalking horse for full decriminalization. Which of course it is, and everybody knows that, but medical marijuana IS a valid therapy that's extremely valuable for the people who use it, and endangering that treatment for political ends by baldly disregarding the fact that some dispensary's do break even liberalized laws in favor of a wider anti-prohibition stance risks ending the states' experiments in medical marijuana before it can show full fruit.

So no, Firedoglake, "Feds" did not "raid a legal medical marijuana dispensary" to "seize petitions" in order to send a "chilling effect" to persons signing the petition. State cops arrested a couple of dumb hippies who were too stupid and greedy to stay within Washington's medical marijuana guidelines and they grabbed a couple of petitions in the process. And frankly, your attempt to portray the situation as having been executed by federal stormtroopers out to kill drug law reform is far more counterproductive to democratic action than a bunch of hick cops in Tacoma just doing what they normally do: busting drug dealers. I have no great love for law enforcement myself, and will criticize police tactics til I'm blue in the face most days. But let's be honest in our criticism, can't we? And leave the bullshit hyperbolic rhetoric and inflated conspiratorial nonsense to right wing kooks like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. Frankly FDL, you make the left look bad, and I for one wish you would just shut the fuck up and let the grownups do the talking.


Did you email this to them? I

Did you email this to them? I think this would make a good open letter to whomever.

I don't really feel like

I don't really feel like engaging with them in order to try to make them a better blog would be productive. I think they know exactly what they're doing and how disingenuous they are and I really wish they'd just go away. But I wouldn't object if readers helped spread the word by posting links around or something.

Consider it done.

Consider it done.

FDL Petition wording has been changed

Brian Sonenstein who wrote the blogpost about this (I couldn't find it until today, although I got the email about the petition yesterday), has agreed to remove the word "legal" from the FDL petition when referring to "legal medical marijuana dispensaries".

(see Comments)

I'm all for marijuana legalization and patients' rights (especially since I am one) but if we don't have the facts straight - and if we don't follow the laws which we're lucky enough to have - we shoot ourselves in the foot. I despise the illegal drug dealers who put the medical MJ programs at risk for all of us.

I'm now going to have to look into FDL's calls for action more carefully...I'd trusted them in the past.


I find their reporting

I find their reporting generally to put ideology ahead of truth. Personally, I think valuing truth first and foremost is the most important feature of leftwing advocacy journalism, and that muckraker search for the truth is what makes real leftist publications like Mother Jones, The Nation, and Dissent valuable. Firedoglake is a stain on an otherwise noble tradition and my position is that they should be hated and reviled for besmirching the legacy of the great leftist journalists who paved the way for them with their sensationalistic and truth deficient brand of yellow journalism.

Truth trumps ideology

I'm completely in agreement about the value of truth. I consider ideology as conceptual, and don't want to base my decisions (or my own ideology, for that matter) on concepts - unless they're grounded in truth. I was big on Hamsher when she was one of the few in the big journo world who criticized Obama's non-liberal, non-progressive policies in the early-ish days of it becoming obvious, as well as the lame Dems in congress. Etc. But this issue really opened my eyes. I'd been looking for a blogpost since I received the email from Hamsher so I could comment on it, and couldn't even find one until the following day. At least the guy responded quickly and made appropriate changes to the petition, but the story was clearly not researched in a fair-minded (i.e., truth-seeking) way *whatsoever*. Since Hamsher signed the email, she's culpable for the shoddiness, too.

FDL is starting a campaign to legalize marijuana so I think they've jumped onto the bandwagon without thinking things through, nor researching the many intricacies of the reality of the marijuana issues. When they first started a "name that campaign" campaign, they published submissions from folks - almost all of which were very stoner/pot/weed oriented. That's irresponsible and treating it as a "let's get high" issue, IMO, and will only get the public against it. This isn't a joke - medical marijuana improves quality of life, and in some cases prolongs and even saves lives. It's serious medication for many people, and there are a LOT of drug dealers treating MMJ programs as though they're a legal means to operate as drug dealers. It should be approached not only from a medical and scientific standpoint, but also as a means of revenue, etc. You know, like grown-ups would do. Let's not present to the public "hey, we wanna get high, you better legalize it!"

Raising people's ire by attacking LE for trying to enforce existing laws does not help promote ending prohibition, as some people seem to think. If they really want to have a campaign for legalization, they have a helluva lot of work to do in getting to the bottom of what is really going on and why. Needless to say, I'm deeply disappointed in FDL. I was relieved to find your post about them and this issue because it validated what I was feeling in my gut. And I love it when people speak out when they're coming from an intelligent and well-thought-out perspective. Thanks for the great post.

yr welcome

and you're exactly right. maybe there's another post in there too.

The person above writing this

The person above writing this blog has no clue what they are talking about. It is very obvious that westnet did what they did in retaliation and to give a chilling effect to our voting processes here in Wa. St....

If you knew the history behind westnet, you would not be so apt to jump at saying some " DUMB" hippies selling pot to the public without any medical authorization is the reason and they overcharged people.....

If you know anything about our constitution as you appear to say...you would realize that "ANY" seizure of "ANY" democratic petition regardless of the issue, is a huge chilling effect, and can not be listed in a search warrant regardless of the lingo in the warrant...IT IS NOT A CRIME, WHICH MUST BE THE CRUX TO SEIZE ANYTHING "UNDER THE AUTHORITY OF LAW" ART. 1 SECT. 7 ...See State v. alaway DERIVITIVE CONTRABAND...

Also if you say you live here in Wa...then you should also know our law enforcement steals peoples property who are involved with medical marijuana to stay in business and our courts cover for them...wink, wink, nod, nod...I SPEAK FROM EXPERIENCE HERE, NOT THE SIDE OF MY MOUTH.!!! On more than 1 occasion I do this...

So no this report is not at all misleading by any means...I am a memeber of NEC420 and I can clearly attest, I have spent more money on street marijuana and it was contaminated with chemicals my body will not tolerate...also I only donated/paid (what ever you call it) $5.00 A GRAM FOR BETTER MEDS THAN ON THE STREETS...I had a choice and was safe.

So I must say, the leo facts here are way out in space...and it is a felony to produce false controled substances documents here in washingon.....

So your way out of "LEGALITY" bounds here..... marijuana is not legal at all in washington or any state for any person, regardless of whether they have a medical authorization...it is a strict liability law...which means one must have under RCW 69.50.308(e) a prescription or a lawful order of a practitioner....in the normal coarse of their business...and for a valid medical reason...i.e. an Affirmative Defense to criminal charges...

So being you messed up the facts and the law in your analysis...you come here and lie about it??

You got issues mang.

re: the epithet dumb hippies

I'll let this comment stand as evidence of that point.

ditto...but "hippies"?

It was bad enough when in the 60's and 70's anyone who challanged the status quo was dismissed as a "dirty rotten hippie" but to hear it from a fellow progressive ...Ouch. Now as back then, people who are drugged out idiots are just "druggies". Please? Leave the peace movement, earth day and alternative life styles to "hippies"

As for the rest, Yes indeedie, Amen,right arm and farm out ! The far ends of the left are just as looney as the right. Thanks for calling them out.

Clearly yr not familiar with

Clearly yr not familiar with the fact that since then, punk rock happened, we're more left wing than hippies, and we don't like hippies because mostly their music sucks and they don't wash themselves properly.