Is there something fishy about police drug busts of illegal, unregulated cannabis on the street? When reports of a bust makes it on the news, most people are deeply fixated on images of suspects typically in denial of the act and giant bags of seized cannabis on the table. But as Johnny Green from the Oregon Cannabis Connection points out, cops could be taking advantage of this diversion.
Green speculates that police could be inflating street value estimates of unregulated cannabis. To prove this, he ran the numbers of a recent bust in Monroe, Washington, and compared it with dispensary and non-dispensary prices in different locations across the US.
During the investigation, which took place at a Goodwill store, police confiscated 3.75 pounds of cannabis. Law enforcement officials, who may have been on a high (a natural one, like a runner’s high) from all the action, estimated the street value to be $24,000.
That comes out to $6,400 per pound.
Something doesn’t look right there – especially considering that the bust took place on the West Coast, a region known for excitingly low cannabis prices. An online, global price index of cannabis that tracks pricing across the US suggests that high quality cannabis in the state of Oregon costs $210 per ounce on averages. Other price points were offered for comparison: $100-$125 per ounce for non-dispensary sources and $180-$300 per ounce for Oregon-based dispensaries. In Colorado, an ounce will cost you around $192, according to Priceonomics.
“There’s three areas where we’re not going to compromise [on pot]: selling to kids, for one; big-profit growing, for two; and driving under the influence,” said Sgt. Sean Whitcomb, a Seattle Police Department’s spokesperson. “The one that we’re truly interested in is the large-scale illegal-grow operations.”
On the other side of the country, the same thing is happening. A bust in Joppa, Maryland, resulted in the seizure of 249 pounds of cannabis, valued at $1.1 million by local police. The estimation comes out to be $4,418 per pound. Law enforcement officials spearheading the investigation threw more logs in the fire by enumerating random items they seized, from a handbag to an off-road motorcycle.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why cops are jacking up street value estimates. Maybe law enforcement groups are innocently out of touch when it comes to black market prices. With unregulated cannabis activity at an all-time low, police could be taking every opportunity they get to make headlines.
Savings from buying cannabis on the street is probably what’s driving the black market on the West Coast. In California, one could save up to 27 percent by purchasing unregulated cannabis. In Michigan, that figure is significantly lower at nine percent; and in Colorado, you might as well be getting your goods from a retail shop, since you’re only saving a measly two percent (it’s safer too).
“If you’re engaged in that activity, don’t think that just because the laws have changed that we’re going to prioritize those any less. We’re very motivated to ensure that those laws aren’t broken,” explained Whitcomb.
This November, California voters will finally get the chance to vote on statewide legalization. The Sean Parker-led Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) has been endorsed by the state’s medical association, state legislators and most pro-cannabis supporters.
However, not every sector of California society finds the state’s perhaps imminent legalization so appealing and the main opponent is a familiar foe. California’s police officers and prison guards have raised about half of the money to the tune of $60,000 intended fight AUMA.
Considering that $60,000 is a mere fraction of the over $2.25 raised by industry heavy hitters for AUMA’s campaign, this effort will likely prove futile. But it’s significant in seeing who exactly is fighting legalization on a state level because that fight will translate to a federal level.
Afraid legalization will halt California’s drug war and cause these state employees to “lose the revenue streams which they have become so deeply addicted” to, the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies received its money from a variety of local and statewide police and even hospital associations.
The group’s fear of legalization stems from a pretty simple fact: they’d lose money. Fewer people would go to jail for cannabis, less raids would be executed on cannabis-related entities, and fewer individuals would be needed to work in jails.
Additionally, these police groups would lose “federal grants from the Justice Department to help fund drug enforcement efforts.” In the decade from 2002 to 2012, California police agencies raked in over $180 million in cannabis-related asset seizures; those seizures would plummet if cannabis goes legal in California.
Losing finances is a natural fear and fighting that fear is even more natural–it’s just probably a pointless fight. AUMA is polling well so far with about 60% of statewide voters stating they will vote in favor of legalization.
In May, police in riot gear in Santa Ana, California raided the Sky High Holistic medical marijuana dispensary, claiming that it was operating illegally under California law due to the lack of a permit.
Officers forced customers to the floor, used threatening and menacing language, and — after they thought no cameras were recording them or civilians were present to hear their comments — engaged in theft of property (marijuana-infused edibles) and behavior that was neither professional nor becoming of an officer of the law.
During the raid, officers were secretly recorded on video cameras they failed to locate and disable. This infamous video segment that went viral on social media shows officers destroying recording equipment, allegedly eating edibles they have stolen from the dispensary, and disparaging the dispensary’s manager, Marla James, a 54-year-old wheelchair-bound amputee.
In the surveillance footage when referring to James, an officer asks,
“Did you punch that one-legged old benita?”
“I was about to kick her in her f-ing nub.”
Steven Downing, a retired Los Angeles Police Department deputy chief, said in response to the raid,
“Look at what’s happened to law enforcement. You don’t have peace officers in our communities anymore, you have warriors, drug warriors.”
The dispensary in June filed a federal lawsuit against the Santa Ana Police Department claiming misconduct, including $100,000 worth of damage to the dispensary and its inventory and the use of excessive force. In response, the Santa Ana Police Department announced that it would conduct an internal investigation.
Now the officers involved in the May raid have filed their own lawsuit, this one claiming that the secretly-captured and embarrassing video segments were a violation of their privacy. They claim that they “had a reasonable expectation that their conversations were no longer being recorded.”
While activists are pessimistic that the Santa Ana PD’s internal investigation will yield anything surprising, medical marijuana advocates are using the incident and ongoing litigation to shine a spotlight on police bigotry against both medical and recreational cannabis consumers and the businesses that serve them. The lack of professionalism in the officers’ behavior — especially toward the dispensary’s manager, James — is an embarrassment to the police department.
The officers also claim that the viral video was edited in a fashion intended to reflect poorly on them. However, the dispenary’s attorney, Matthew Pappas, has provided police with a full-length, unedited version of the recording.
It remains to be seen if this latest lawsuit in the Sky High Holistic raid drama will gain any traction. If the officers win their suit, the video recordings could not be used against them. Many are cautiously optimistic that the officer’s will lose their case and the video footage will stand against them in an investigation or trial.
Regardless of the outcome of this event, the Santa Ana Police Department — and the officers involved in the Sky High Holistic raid specifically — have received a failing grade from community members, their peers in Los Angeles, and progressive citizens throughout the nation who are frustrated with the drug war and its cost to society.
Arizona is not exactly known for being a tolerant state when it comes to the kind herb. However, a recent court decision is changing the climate for cannabis consumers in the state.
A recent Court of Appeals decision in the Grand Canyon State determined that it is unconstitutional for police to use the smell of fresh or freshly smoked cannabis as probable cause for searches and arrests. The basis for the decision: The 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act (AMMA).
Judge Peter Eckerstrom, writing for the majority, said:
“Medical marijuana use pursuant to AMMA is lawful under Arizona law. Therefore its scent alone does not disclose whether a crime has occurred.”
Arizona’s AMMA law permits people with a doctor’s recommendation to obtain up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks. Caregivers are allowed to cultivate up to 60 plants, while dispensaries can grow an unspecified number of plants (at an off-site grow facility). It covers the following conditions: Alzheimer’s, ALS, wasting syndrome, cancer, chronic pain, Crohn’s, glaucoma, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, nausea, muscle spasms, PTSD, and seizures.
The court based its decision on the fact that legitimate medical marijuana patients would be deemed “second-class citizens,” “losing their rights to privacy and security, including privacy within their own homes.”
The judge decided that a warrant cannot be justified by behavior that might be legal — a change brought about by the AMMA in 2010. Eckerstrom also emphasized that the AMMA law does not include public consumption of cannabis and that there are still many valid reasons that an officer can arrest a suspect.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.