States with legalized marijuana have a big problem: their own state and local law enforcement agencies.
While almost two-dozen states have legalized cannabis for medical use, and Colorado and Washington voters approved legalization of recreational marijuana as well, the federal government still prohibits it. That means people using or growing marijuana legally under state law still face the specter of arrest and prosecution under federal law.
With so many states simply ignoring the feds, it would prove almost impossible for the U.S. government to maintain prohibition alone. They lack the resources and manpower to enforce it. But they don’t have to go it alone. Federal agencies like the DEA can always count on cooperation and assistance from state and local law enforcement, even in states with legalized marijuana.
A case in Washington state illustrates this vividly.
Four members of the Harvey family, along with a close family friend, qualify to use medical marijuana under Washington state law. Larry Harvey, 70, and his wife Rhonda Firestack-Harvey, 55, live in the wilderness of northeast Washington and grew marijuana for all five people in a plot on their property.
“My husband and I are retired, but work hard to live a peaceful, sustainable life in the northeast Washington wilderness. We both have serious health issues and were told by our doctors that medical marijuana could help. All five of us have qualifying conditions, actually, and the garden was below the limit of 15 plants per patient,” Rhonda said in a statement to the Huffington Post.
On Aug. 9, 2012, state law enforcement showed up at the Harveys with a state issued warrant after a Civil Air Patrol pilot reported a marijuana grow near the Harvey home. According to the Huffington Post article, police found 74 marijuana plants and “officers seized 29 cannabis plants so that the family would be compliant with state law, which limits collective crops to no more than 45 plants.”
Harvey family spokesperson Kari Boiter said Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen directed police to simply destroy enough plants to make the Harveys state compliant and not to prosecute them. No charges were filed in connection with the Aug. 9 raid.
But just seven days later, DEA agents returned to the Harvey home.
The Huffington Post reports:
During the Aug. 16 raid, Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized the Harveys’ remaining marijuana plants, as well as about five pounds of raw cannabis and some marijuana-infused edibles from the freezer.
The feds also seized a 2007 Saturn Vue, $700 in cash, a computer, a motorcycle and an ATV, along with the family’s legally owned firearms.
When I asked Boiter if state or local law enforcement participated in the federal raid, she said indignantly, “Now, what do you think?”
Of course they did.
Boiter said Stevens County Sheriff’s Office deputies assisted in the DEA raid. Boiter also said DEA agent Sam Kaiser was present during the first raid, conducted under the authority of a state warrant.
According to the 2013 federal indictment, the five patients face six felony charges including manufacturing, possession and distribution of marijuana, as well as the possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking. They could receive sentences up to life in prison if convicted on all charges.
Remember, the family was in complete compliance with state law after officers destroyed the plants in the first raid. The state declined to press any charges. And yet the county sheriff’s office was involved in a federal raid that could end with these medical marijuana patients serving life sentences in federal prison.
State and local cooperation with federal agents must stop in states with legal marijuana. Local police partnering with DEA agents to bust state residents complying with state law undermines the intention of the people as expressed through their state legislatures.
States do not have to cooperate with federal enforcement of federal laws. Under the well-established anti-commandeering doctrine, states can require their agencies to stand down and can refuse to provide any material support to the feds. That would leave agencies like the DEA to operate completely on their own – something they lack the manpower and resources to do on any large scale.
But state and local police agencies won’t withdraw support on their own. The lure of federal drug enforcement money, all of the cool military grade toys available from Uncle Sam and the asset forfeiture booty proves far too strong. Left to their own devices, police will always play nicely with the feds in order to cash in and expand their own power.
State legislatures must step up and pass laws explicitly prohibiting any state or local support with federal agencies in the enforcement of federal drug laws.
The bottom line is that the feds need state cooperation. And they get it. But if state legislatures yank this support away, it will become nearly impossible for the federal government to enforce its unconstitutional drug laws on people who have expressed their desire to legalize medical or recreational marijuana within their state.
State lawmakers must act. Having legalized marijuana, they need to take the next step. Without direct state action, the federal government will continue to terrorize people like the Harveys, guilty of nothing more than trying to relieve their pain and sickness.
The state not only has a right to step in and refuse cooperation with federal acts that violate not only the Constitution, but the expressed will of the people, it has a duty, as Madison insisted in 1798.
That in case of a deliberate, palpable, and dangerous exercise of other powers, not granted by the said compact, the states who are parties thereto, have the right, and are in duty bound, to interpose for arresting the progress of the evil.
State legislators…it’s time to step up!
About the author
Michael Maharrey [send him email] is the Communications Director for the Tenth Amendment Center. He proudly resides in the original home of the Principles of ’98 – Kentucky. See his blog archive here and his article archive here. He is the author of the book, Our Last Hope: Rediscovering the Lost Path to Liberty. You can visit his personal website at MichaelMaharrey.com and like him on Facebook HERE