Mass Federal Raids on Colorado Pot Hint at a Crackdown Pattern

The coordinated raids of at least a dozen Denver dispensaries on Thursday are the latest federal law enforcement actions to occur in the wake of legalization votes last November in Colorado and Washington states. The coordinated raids in Colorado follow raids that took place in Washingon this summer, and when analyzed side by side, the federal actions hint at an emerging pattern in organized pot crackdowns. Characterized by cooperation across multiple levels of government and timed to deliver maximum political effect, this new method of federal interference with the medical marijuana movement sends a clear message to a marijuana industry still in its formation stages.

Consider a coordinated sweep conducted in the Puget Sound region of Washington state in July of this year. Conveniently timed to coincide with deliberations of the state Liquor Control Board to determine the body's new rules to govern the state's legal retail marijuana industry, the raids targeted four dispensaries around the Sound, including one in the state capital of Olympia. 

The Department of Justice (DOJ), in a terse press release, revealed no specific details of the intent behind the Colorado raids except to claim that they comported with the guidelines of the August 29th prosecution memorandum authored by Deputy Attorney General James Cole. That memo advised US Attorneys not to prosecute cannabis businesses in compliance with state law unless they violated one or more of eight internal DOJ guidelines, including prohibitions against sale of cannabis to minors and diversion of marijuana to the illicit market. 

It remains to be seen whether any of the dispensaries raided on Thursday violated any of the Cole memo's guidelines. But even if they did, one cannot dismiss the possibility that the pattern of recent raids conducted in Washington and now Colorado reveal a  calculated plan to shape the legal cannabis market to come.

Similarly conveniently timed raids occurred in the Czech Republic earlier this month. A top official in the police department of the Czech Republic  ordered a crackdown on an estimated 100 “grow shops” selling seeds and hydroponic equipment in the central European nation. The timing of those raids was mere days before the beginning of Prague's annual Cannafest, which draws some of the largest crowds of any pro-pot festival in the world. And, the Czech Republic was only two weeks away from awarding its  first license to import medical marijuana from the Netherlands when its own sweep occurred.

Washington and Colorado are in the process of legalizing so-called “retail marijuana,” replete with new, strict regulations and high taxes. In fact, in what is unlikely a coincidence, Thursday's Denver raids occurred almost simultaneously with Colorado's issuance of  the first retail marijuana license in the world. 

All three jurisdictions – Olympia, Prague, and now Denver – are in the midst of massive upheavals in their cannabis policies. All three major reforms hold out the prospect of a massive transfer of funds: either from Czech medical marijuana cooperatives to  a foreign corporation, or from US medical marijuana cooperatives to the general treasuries of their home states, which happen to desperately need the proceeds of new, highly taxed retail marijuana industries.

So while it's too early to tell what the dispensaries raided Thursday were or were not up to, it's easy to predict that more governments will conduct even more raids on the lightly-taxed medical marijuana industries as they exist Thursday. Any government to do so is only acting in their own financial interest.


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