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Feds Crack Down on Medical Pot "For the Kids"

More medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington state are ordered to close by the DEA—this time for being "too close" to schools.

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By Tony O'Neill

08/24/12

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In these times of economic plenty, the federal government is trying to close down 23 more businesses in Washington state. They happen to be medical marijuana dispensaries, which—thanks to medical marijuana initiative I-692—have been legal by state law there since December 1998. Seattle US Attorney Jenny Durkan gives a familiar excuse for the latest crackdown: she’s “thinking about the children.”

"We all work hard to create a safe zone for kids in school,” said Durkan, announcing the move. “We need to enforce one message for our students: Drugs have no place in or near our schools." The federal government has decided the dispensaries in question are “too close” to some schools in western Washington, and the DEA have sent letters threatening the dispensary owners with criminal prosecution or asset forfeiture if they don’t close within 30 days. Similar tactics have already driven three dispensaries out of business in the central Washington town of Wenatchee.

Interestingly, the move comes as a national survey shows drug use is indeed rampant among US school kids: high school students claim that 17% of their peers use drugs, alcohol or cigarettes during the school day—and 91% of them report marijuana for sale on-site. Which raises the question of why the DEA is focusing on marijuana being sold by dispensaries within 1,000 yards of Washington high schools—dispensaries that rigidly enforce age restrictions and require a doctor’s recommendation—when it's clear that teens don’t even have to leave their school grounds to procure pot.

The picture is further confused by the contrasting indications of studies on whether or not states' legalization of medical marijuana increases teen use. One major study by Columbia University researchers found that MMJ states have higher rates of marijuana abuse and dependence. Another, published in the Annals of Epidemiology in September 2011, found slightly higher rates of use specifically among 12 to 17-year-olds. On the other hand, a more recent non-peer reviewed study—an analysis of data by economists from three US universities—found that not to be the case. "There is anecdotal evidence that medical marijuana is finding its way into the hands of teenagers," said Professor Daniel I. Rees of Colorado Denver University, one of the co-authors, "but there's no statistical evidence that legalization increases the probability of use."

The question of whether the DEA are really “thinking about the children," or rather just making a cynical effort to push back against the growing wave of support for states to set their own medical marijuana laws without federal interference, remains unanswered. Watch this space. The fight will get dirtier in the fall, when voters in Washington, Colorado and Oregon go to the polls on bills to legalize recreational marijuana use—putting those states in direct opposition with federal law.

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