How CA Should Respond to Medical Marijuana Raid

Activists are outraged over Obama’s raid of Emmalyn’s California Cannabis Clinic in San Francisco, but they should not be surprised.

Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder had promised to end federal medical marijuana raids, as conducted by both Clinton and Bush’s administrations, leaving alone dispensaries operating legally under state law. Obama broke the spirit of the promise, but not the letter. The excuse for this last raid was state law violations—supposedly, sales taxes were being evaded. Now the feds will probably prosecute under federal law.

The state government was not agitating for a crackdown. Sacramento was not complaining about sales tax evasion. San Francisco had given a permit to this dispensary. Aaron Smith from the Marijuana Policy Project notes, “It is disturbing that, despite the DEA’s vague claims about violations of state and federal laws, they apparently made no effort to contact the local authorities who monitor and license medical marijuana providers.”

Furthermore, sales tax violations are rarely handled this way. The California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws points out, “The normal process in such cases is for the Board of Equalization to audit the business in question, NOT for federal agents to enter like storm troopers and steal all of the business’s inventory.”

This episode should remind liberal pot activists of the potentially despotic power involved in tax collection. The power to tax is the power to destroy. Raids like this are unusual, but not unheard of in mere tax cases. Presumably, if California’s marijuana industry was only governed by libertarian law—no violence, no theft, no fraud—there would be far fewer excuses for the feds to step in.

Short of exempting medical marijuana from sales tax altogether, how can future outrages be prevented? California should go on the offensive. It should legalize marijuana, leave its regulation to the market, and, for now, treat it like any other retail good in terms of tax law.

It could do so under the guise of medical marijuana, to protect users and distributors from federal sanction, assuming Obama keeps his promise to the letter. California could make medical marijuana completely legal—like aspirin or cough syrup—and allow retailers of all types to sell it without license or prescription.

We could see it in nurseries, grocery stores, and pharmacies as an over-the-counter. It could be made available everywhere. This would make it much harder for the feds to raid facilities as though they were underground, barely legal operations. It would expose the contradictions in the drug war.

The Drug War is a total disaster. It is destined to fail in significantly reducing drug abuse. It is a violation of personal liberty, an excuse to shred the Bill of Rights, and the major cause of gang violence, whether in our inner cities or on the border with Mexico.

If America ended drug prohibition, the Mexican border violence that has killed thousands over the last couple years would end completely. Instead, Obama is moving in the wrong direction, sending more troops there. It is state violence that forced the drug market underground, and every successful breakup of a dominant cartel only opens up a vacuum inevitably filled by other smaller groups violently competing over turf. The more the government cracks down, the worse it will get.

On medical marijuana, Obama was supposed to signify a shift in policy. His last DEA raid should put that myth to bed. By legalizing medical marijuana in 1996, California forced the issue over whether federal drug laws should supersede local standards. In terms of public opinion and political pressure, much has been won. It’s time to keep pushing.

In Gonzales v. Raich (2005), the Supreme Court’s five liberals all voted for federal supremacy over California’s medical marijuana laws. More court cases might not be the answer. California should instead continue to liberalize its drug laws. This will, at least, complicate Obama’s policy of federal raids and further undermine faith in the national government setting drug policy.

Anthony Gregory is a former Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent books American Surveillance and The Power of Habeas Corpus in America.
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