The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) conducted raids yesterday on at least five medical marijuana dispensaries in Las Vegas, Nevada, and reportedly seized patient and financial records, but made no arrests.
According to the Associated Press, Natalie Collins, spokeswoman for the local U.S. Attorney's office said that the federal search warrants and "supporting affidavits stemming from what she called 'an ongoing law enforcement operation' were sealed by federal court order." The dispensaries raided yesterday by federal agents and local police included: Happiness Consultant, Salvation Haven, Nature's Way, Organic Releaf, & Holistic Solutions.
The federal raids come nearly a year after an October 2009 Justice Department directive issued to U.S. Attorneys in medical marijuana states, deprioritizing enforcement against medical marijuana patients and providers. The Las Vegas raids occurred less than two months after another spate of federal raids in July against state-compliant patients in California and Michigan. "The federal government should never be called on to enforce local or state medical marijuana laws," said Caren Woodson, Director of Government Affairs with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group. "The federal DEA must abide by the Justice Department policy and stay out of the enforcement of local and state medical marijuana laws."
In July, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman stated publicly on local television that allowing dispensaries was "a very legitimate goal," and that, "If doctors say that it does a patient some good and gives relief to somebody that has a dire need for it, I'm all for it." Nevada failed to consider the issue of distribution at the time of adopting its medical marijuana law in 2000. Although the state allows "Designated Primary Caregivers" to supply medical marijuana to patients, the qualifications are stringent and require "significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a person diagnosed with a chronic or debilitating medical condition."
Nevada's effort to address the need of sick patients to access local distribution of medical marijuana mirrors the efforts in other states like California, Colorado, Michigan, Oregon and Washington. Both Maine and Rhode Island have amended their laws to include state-licensed distribution similar to the medical marijuana laws of New Mexico. The trend to ensure safe access to medical marijuana by establishing licensed distribution facilities has even extended to states currently deliberating new medical marijuana laws, such as Iowa, Kansas, Maryland and Wisconsin.
"A failure to regulate the much-needed distribution of medical marijuana by states such as Nevada should not be seen as a green light by the feds to conduct raids," continued Woodson. ASA has and will continue to work with both federal officials in the Obama Administration as well as local and state officials in Nevada to address the safe distribution of medical marijuana as a public health issue.
The DEA is currently being directed by Bush-appointee Michele Leonhart, who served as deputy under DEA Administrator Karen Tandy; both were responsible for more than 200 federal raids in California and other medical marijuana states during the Bush Administration. Against objections from medical marijuana advocates, President Obama nominated Leonhart to head the DEA under his Justice Department, but her Senate confirmation has yet to be scheduled.
Justice Department memorandum from October 2009 regarding medical marijuana: http://blogs.usdoj.gov/blog/archives/192