The increasing number of medical marijuana dispensary raids may highlight a fundamental tension in U.S. cannabis policy. Currently, in the United States, medical marijuana is legal in 25 states as well as Washington, D.C. Despite the growing number of states that have legalized cannabis for medicinal uses, and despite the increasing number of legally operating dispensaries, it appears that federal law enforcement agencies have been cracking down on dispensaries more than ever before.
These kinds of stats are always a bit behind since it takes the time to gather and collate large sets of data, but according to the most recent numbers available, dispensary raids by the feds have been on the rise over the past decade.
Americans for Safe Access, an activist group, working to improve medical marijuana patients’ ability to access cannabis safely and legally, published a report titled “What’s the Cost: The Federal War on Patients” in June 2013.
Here are some of the key findings from the report:
- Over the course of Obama’s first term as president, his administration spent nearly $300 million on marijuana enforcement in states where medical cannabis had already been legalized.
- Between 1996 and 2013, the federal government conducted 528 dispensary raids on medical marijuana dispensaries.
- During Obama’s first term as president, his administration oversaw 270 dispensary raids on medical marijuana dispensaries.
- Between 2009 and 2013, President Obama’s administration spent $100 million more cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries than George W. Bush’s did.
The main issue these trends bring into focus is the tension between federal law—which continues to outlaw cannabis—and state law—which varies depending on where you’re at.
President Obama spoke about this tension when asked why his administration had ramped up efforts to raid medical marijuana dispensaries.
“What I specifically said was that we were not going to prioritize prosecutions of persons who are using medical marijuana,” the President told reporters.
“I never made a commitment that somehow we were going to give carte blanche to large-scale producers and operators of marijuana—and the reason is because it’s against federal law.”
Toward the end of 2014, Obama took what many saw as a step toward offering increased protection to dispensaries when he signed a new set of spending laws stipulating that federal agents would no longer be allowed to raid medical marijuana dispensaries in states where it was legal.
That law was upheld in 2015 when a federal court in California said that it was unlawful for the DEA to use federal funds for dispensary raids that were operating according to local and state laws.
This year, however, Obama announced that he would not make it a priority to explore or pursue any cannabis law reforms at the federal level.
And despite the increased efforts to slow the rate of federal dispensary raids in recent years, many dispensaries now say they’re facing the possibility of dispensary raids coming from state law enforcement. In Michigan, for example, news sources have reported that “state police have raided more than a dozen” dispensaries in 2016 alone.