By Chris Walsh
You’ve no doubt seen the stories: Federal agents armed with guns, shields and even battering rams storm medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations, seizing computers, boxes of documents and dozens of cannabis plants in the process. In some cases, employees are led away in handcuffs. In others, owners are simply forced to close shop, receiving little in terms of an explanation.
This scenario has played out numerous times over the past few months in California, Washington and Montana as the government attempts to crack down on medical pot. In each instance, the MMJ industry has responded with an angry outburst and a familiar refrain. The government is overstepping its bounds, impeding on states’ rights, harming patients, devastating small businesses and steamrolling the entire industry, pot advocates cry. The Obama administration, others say, is stabbing the sector in the back after paving the way for its creation two years ago. It is unconstitutional, unfair and unacceptable, pot supporters shout.
It’s an understandable response under the circumstances. The government, after all, hasn’t exactly been clear about its position on states that have approved the use and sale of medical pot. Its approach has been uneven and inconsistent, with some states and businesses singled out while others are left alone.
But the knee-jerk reaction by the MMJ industry to any and every raid is misguided as well. In fact, the raids might actually be a good thing for the industry.
Before you write this off as blasphemy, hear me out. Pro-pot groups and industry advocates often assume that every MMJ player in every state is operating with integrity and following state laws to a T. Every action against an MMC or related business, therefore, is seen as an attack on the entire industry. That would make sense, if only it were true.
As we all know, shady players abound. There’s a proliferation of pot shops that are undoubtedly selling weed out the back door, taking shortcuts, engaging in questionable and unethical business practices, and skirting local and state laws. They’re the ones giving the entire industry a bad name. And they’re gaining unfair advantages, making it much harder for legit dispensaries doing business by the books.
The majority of raids have focused on this element of the industry, at least according to the federal government. In most cases, officials have said they are targeting MMJ operations that are laundering money, selling to individuals who don’t have medical pot cards or breaking other local laws. Whether or not these MMCs and related businesses are actually guilty is another matter, as the jury is still out at this time. But it’s clear that the government is first and foremost looking to stamp out the shady side of the industry, rather than every dispensary in every city.
That’s a good thing. Just because a state has approved the use and sale of MMJ doesn’t mean that individuals can run roughshod over the law. The government should take steps to crack down on people who are abusing the system. They tarnish the industry’s reputation and turn communities against medical pot. They steal business from dispensaries trying to follow the law. They make the whole idea of medical marijuana a complete and utter farce.
It’s high time that industry organizations and professionals speak out against these types of operations, rather than circle the wagons every time the government takes any type of action against the industry. Yes, some legit MMJ businesses were swept up in the recent raids – particularly in California – and that is a huge problem. But as long as dispensaries and related businesses are allowed to violate state laws, the public will have a negative perception of the industry. We’ll see more communities do an about-face on medical marijuana. Fewer states will be willing to adopt such laws in the first place. Fear and uncertainty will continue to spread.
And that will make it more difficult for everyone involved.