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.