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Updated Friday, May 3, 2013 at 08:46 AM

Why the crackdown on Seattle marijuana dispensaries?

By Bruce Ramsey
The Seattle Times

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration has sent shut-down-or-else letters to 11 Seattle-area marijuana dispensaries. These are medicine shops, which the federal government supposedly tolerates, not the “Initiative 502 stores” for all over-21s. Those won’t open until next year, if U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder decides to allow them to open. Medical dispensaries are supposed to be tolerated.

Apparently they are, except those within 1,000 feet of an iconic thing. What’s with that? This isn’t the 1,000-foot rule from Initiative 502. This is from the federal code, 21 USC 860. It starts out:

Any person who violates section 841(a)(1) of this title or section 856 of this title by distributing, possessing with intent to distribute, or manufacturing a controlled substance in or on, or within one thousand feet of, the real property comprising a public or private elementary, vocational, or secondary school or a public or private college, junior college, or university, or a playground, or housing facility owned by a public housing authority, or within 100 feet of a public or private youth center, public swimming pool, or video arcade facility, is (except as provided in subsection (b) of this section) subject to (1) twice the maximum punishment authorized by section 841(b) of this title…

The federal government needs to decide what it’s trying to do. Medical marijuana is illegal everywhere under federal law but legal under the laws of 18 states. Is the federal government going to fight those states? In 2009, the Obama administration indicated it would not. It has not decided what it will do about Washington and Colorado, which voted in November to decriminalize for over-21 adults.

In a city as dense as Seattle, the 1,000-foot rule applied to all the things in the law book wipes out most of the places for a marijuana shop outside of the SODO district. That’s ridiculous. And the rule doesn’t make sense anyway.

The rule was put in during the crack cocaine epidemic by legislators who imagined drug dealers hawking crack to children on the way to school. But these are medical dispensaries for clients, many of whom are middle aged or older. If they have doctor’s letters they can go inside and buy marijuana. What difference does it make if such a shop is less than 1,000 feet of a school? Kids can’t go in. Are they supposed to be corrupted by walking in front of it? Seeing a green cross in the window?

A final note: Philip Dawdy of the Washington Cannabis Association said several of the letters have gone out to dispensaries that were not within 1,000 feet of any of the taboo things. “The application of this seems to be scattered and random,” he said.


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