Marijuana Legalization: The Bizarre Thing That Happens When State and Federal Laws Clash

In November 2012, Washington state legalized the use of both medical and recreational marijuana. So why then did the Drug Enforcement Agency raid local pot selling shops on Wednesday?

The problem, one that exists for many issues, is that state law and national law do not always agree. While pot is legal in Washington, it is still criminalized under federal law.

“The Drug Enforcement Administration’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged,” said the DEA in a 2012 press statement. “In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance.”

That doesn’t change the fact that there are people in Washington whose livelihood depends on the legalization of marijuana and who were subjected to an armed government raid. Casey Lee, an employee of Bayside Gardens, one of the raided businesses, reported that the DEA confiscated important documents and around $2,500 in medical marijuana.

"It's humiliating," Lee told a local station, KING 5 News. “They don’t get to see the cancer patients.”

The gray area between state and federal law is a confusing and problematic one for local business owners who fear that these raids were not the last.

“It hurts me a lot. This is really hard. This is my life,” said Addy Norton, an employee with Bayside Collective in Olympia. “This affects everybody — it affects our family at home. I mean, this doesn’t just affect the state and the feds, it affects all of us.”

Leif O’Leary, a patient prescribed medical marijuana, was confused as to why a federal agency would be targeting a small business in a state that has legalized pot.

"You can't tell me there isn't [sic] bigger fish to fry, especially now that recreational marijuana is legal [in Washington]," O'Leary said. "It is just to me inconceivable that this is still happening."

This gray area does not just cause confusion and ruin small businesses. It also wastes millions of taxpayer dollars. A pro-medical marijuana group, Americans for Safe Access, estimated that almost $300 million has been spent by the Obama administration on combating legalized medical marijuana.

Though the White House appears to be growing increasingly intolerant of marijuana, legal or not, public opinion has a different trajectory. Public opinion polls show an increasing support for the legalization of the drug, for both medical and recreational uses. 

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Heather Hartlaub

Heather is a recent grad from St. Lawrence University with a degree in Middle Eastern History and Arabic. Raised around the world as a military brat, she loves foreign policy, kebseh, and crossword puzzles.

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