Today, the Drug Enforcement Administration told 23 medical marijuana dispensaries—which have been visibly proliferating in the Seattle-area for last couple years—that they have one month to relocate outside of school zones. For those dispensaries that fail to move outside a 1,000-foot radius of schools, playgrounds, and other school zone areas, federal authorizes may raid the properties, seize their assets, and seek federal criminal charges, says a letter sent today by DEA agent Matthew Barnes.
"Your prompt attention to this matter is strongly advised," Barnes warns. (One of his letters to a dispensary is here.)
Agent Barnes adds that the federal government makes no criminal exceptions for marijuana, even it it's "medical," a word that his letter writes in italics and quotation marks.
If you ask me, the feds are being generous here. They don't have to tolerate any of these businesses, particularly when Washington State law doesn't explicitly allow dispensaries.
In that vein, attorney Kurt Boehl says the letters should come as no surprise: Feds have long enforced rules that enhance penalties for drug distribution in school zones, and prosecutors recently sent letters instructing dispensaries in California and Colorado to move outside those areas. "There were some people who were pushing the envelope, because Seattle was a little more lenient," he says, and "some people may have gotten complacent."
Seattle City Attorney's office spokeswoman Kimberly Mills points out that, while the city doesn't have medical marijuana zoning rules in place yet, officials have made warnings clear: "The dispensaries that are located within 1,000 feet of schools are fair game for federal action, as the owners/operators know and have been told by the City," Mills says.
Ben Livingston, a member of the Cannabis Defense Coalition, an advocacy group for medical marijuana, says the letters show that voters should approve an initiative on the fall ballot to legalize recreational marijuana. The measure would provide patients—and all adults 21 and older—protection from arrest for cannabis possession and license store to sell marijuana. But if Initiative 502 fails, he says, it will result in "federal raids for many years to come."
This post was updated at 4:20 pm (truly) with comments from Mills and Boehl.