Federal agents backed by local and state police officers raided more than a dozen dispensaries in Seattle, Tacoma and several other Washington cities on Tuesday, part of a high-profile move by the government to crack down on illegal MMJ businesses.
The coordinated effort led to the arrest of 18 people. In one case, agents allegedly equipped with shields and a battering ram burst into a dispensary and led a woman away in handcuffs.
The raids took place in Pierce County, Seattle, Puyallup, Spanaway and Thurston County. Among the dispensaries targeted: Club 420, Tacoma Cross, Lacey Cross, Olympia Patient Resource Center, The Healing Center of Olympia, the Seattle Cannabis Coop’s two locations and the Seattle G.A.M.E. Collective, according to Seattle Weekly.
The government said it focused specifically on medical marijuana operations that were violating state laws, adding that some were laundering money, running guns and engaging in illegal drug sales to people without official patient cards. But some local pot professionals said that many of the dispensaries weren’t willfully violating the law, blaming the situation on the state’s confusing and vague MMJ laws.
The moves come in the wake of a series of raids and related actions in California, where the federal government has been looking to rein in the medical marijuana industry. Agents there have raided not only dispensaries and grow operations that are violating state laws, but also those that are compliant with local regulations. Additionally, U.S. district attorneys in the state have sent warning letters to landlords with MMJ tenants, threatening prosecution if they don’t severe ties with the businesses.
The raids in Washington will surely cause ripples across the U.S. medical marijuana industry. The government’s most aggressive actions have been confined to California, where dispensaries operate under little oversight given the state’s relatively lax regulatory framework. .
The government moves in Washington come on the heels of statements by former state officials – including retired judges – supporting a state initiative that calls for the decriminalization of marijuana. Efforts to get the initiative on the 2012 ballot also received some solid financial support in recent weeks. At the same time, Seattle’s City Council voted earlier this month to regulate, license and tax dispensaries rather than ban them, as some individual cities in Washington have done.