News & Politics

It Costs 1 Million Dollars to Shut Down a Legal Medical Marijuana Dispensary

Matthew Davies is facing years in prison after the Justice Department shut his medical marijuana operation down, which was perfectly legal under California state law.

Photo Credit: yellowj / Shutterstock

The case of a medical marijuana dispensary owner who is being hounded by the Justice Department is just the latest highlight in America’s absurd and destructive drug war. And as The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf points out, the combination of shutting down the business and prosecuting the owner of the company will cost upwards of a million dollars.

The New York Times highlights the case of Matthew R. Davies, a 34-year-old father of two children who followed California’s law on medical marijuana by the books to set up his business. But “the United States Justice Department indicted Mr. Davies six months ago on charges of cultivating marijuana, after raiding two dispensaries and a warehouse filled with nearly 2,000 marijuana plants,” the New York Times reports. The raid came despite the fact that medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996.

The U.S. wants Davies to plea guilty, which would send the entrepreneur to prison for a mandatory of five years. He is fighting the case.

“To be looking at 15 years of our life, you couldn’t pay me enough to give that up,” said Davies. “If I had believed for a minute this would happen, I would never have gotten into this. We thought, this is an industry in its infancy, it’s a heavy cash business, it’s basically being used by people who use it to cloak illegal activity. Nobody was doing it the right way. We thought we could make a model of how this should be done.”

How much will it cost for the U.S. to throw the legal book at Davies? At least a million dollars, if not more, as Friedersdorf writes. There’s the $235,000 in incarceration costs; lost tax revenue from his operation; the “opportunity cost of focusing on other crimes”; and more, as The Atlantic blogger notes.

“Doesn't that seem awfully ‘expensive’ when the only real benefit is sending the message that you can't get away with openly flouting federal drug laws? If that's the biggest benefit you can plausibly claim, isn't that a sign that the law should change?” writes Friedersdorf. “After all, it isn't as if anyone believes that sending Davies to jail is going to make victory in the drug war any more plausible. Or appreciably decrease the number of people smoking marijuana. Or even significantly diminish the supply since there's always another person growing on the black market. Casualties all turn out to be purposeless in an unwinnable war.”

The case of Davies is just another sad day in the drug war. Destroying people’s lives and spending unnecessary amounts of money to prosecute someone who opened a business in compliance with state law remains a routine occurrence.

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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