Kinder Pot Cops? Police Experiment with Alternatives to SWAT Raids on Marijuana

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The thing with raiding a medical marijuana dispensary is that it’s really easy. Here’s how you do it:

Visit the dispensary, preferably during business hours, as opposed to 6 a.m. or in the middle of the night. To get there, walk, bike or drive in a police car, rather than sending in a helicopter. Open the door, instead of smashing it down with a battering ram. You may need to knock or to ring a buzzer, but get this—you’ll be let in! Enter the dispensary, normally, in the fashion of how most people choose to maneuver through open portals, as opposed to a reenactment of SEAL Team 6’s visit to Abbottabad. Announce your presence, like, “Hello, we’re the authorities, and we have business here,” rather than drill-instructor decibel shouts, punctuated by aiming firearms at almost certainly unarmed and absolutely unsuspecting customers and workers (and/or killing their dogs).

When following these simple steps, no kevlar vests, automatic weapons or Pentagon-surplus war gear will be necessary for a law-enforcement action that may eventually result in no charges (but will almost certainly result in injuries to innocent bystanders). You won’t look bad, and you may even win some public sympathy in the process! All while, you know, enforcing the law without creating collateral damage, as in hurting innocent people.

More and more police departments across the country are taking our advice and swapping out SWAT-style raids for these neighborly, sensible innovations when dealing with local marijuana operations. And as Leafly News reported, the approach is paying off: It works! The law is enforced, justice is served and nobody gets shot, maimed or traumatized in the process.

Here’s how police in Massachusetts shut down an operation that was offering $20 tickets, with a “free gift” of cannabis—an offer in violation of state law which does not allow sales until next year at the earliest. They walked in, they delivered cease-and-desist orders and walked out.

Police are taking similar action throughout the country, criminal defense attorneys and other experts told Leafly. As the website reported:

Increasingly, the authorities who turn up are more likely to be armed with clipboards than submachine guns. Businesses are more likely to be hit with misdemeanors, or violations of local zoning or business codes, than felony offenses…

There are a few reasons given for cops’ kinder, gentler turn when handling marijuana operations that at least ostensibly follow state law.

One, most cannabis enforcement “raids” result in civil penalties rather than criminal charges—and armed police don’t generally accompany code-enforcement officers on the way to serve a health-code violation. Two, recreational and medical marijuana businesses follow a host of rules, which provide for fines or loss of license if the rules aren’t followed—no enforcement-at-gunpoint required! And when there is a botched raid, not only is it vastly unpopular, it’s also costly—for the cops, who have to pay out a settlement, as well as for anyone on the receiving end.

This trend also isn’t necessarily new.

When cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries in California in 2011, U.S. Justice Department authorities sent threatening letters via the U.S. mail. “For the price of a postage stamp,” as Oakland, Calif.-based attorney Robert Raich told Leafly, feds were able to get dispensaries to shut down. Not quite the thing to get your blood pumping, but man! Those results.

This is probably a good thing for police everywhere, as SWAT-style attitudes get cops in trouble even when they keep their guns in their hostlers.

There was the time police in Santa Ana, California raided the local Sky High Collective in 2015, shuttling all the dispensary employees and customers (including one woman in a wheelchair) out the door before rifling through the store’s wares, and—all of this was captured on the security cameras the authorities failed to dismantle, mind you—chowing down on what looked like medical-marijuana edibles.

Four of the cops caught on tape plowing through the store’s product and taking out security cameras were later fired, as OC Weekly documented, and several were charged with crimes, though the local DA later dropped the charges. Of course.

As it happened, Sky High Collective was raided again earlier this year, about a week after it had filed a $650,000 lawsuit against the city and the police department for the infamous 2015 raid. Coincidentally. Of course.

Not that there still won’t be raids.

California-based attorney Heather Burke says she believes that with Attorney General Jeff Sessions now in charge of the DEA, there will be more violent, military-style raids—we just don’t know where, when or why. Of course.

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