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Breaking Down the Bust

What will the big Shop 420 raids mean to Tucson's legit MMJ community?

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In the dead of night, they came.

Strapped with threatening gear, locked and loaded for extreme prejudice, they swooped in SWAT-style on Wednesday, Sept. 12, after a month of planning to rid our city of yet another horrible scourge—to protect children, frail elderly ladies and nosy neighbors from ... pot.

They are officers on the Counter Narcotics Alliance, a drug-busting task force with officers from 14 Southern Arizona law-enforcement agencies. Their perceived scourge was a group of certification clinics and collectives operating under the name Shop 420. Officers crashed into five Shop 420 locations—four in Tucson, and one in Casa Grande—and took 14 pounds of meds, 10 hostages and a gun. The hostages were later released, after they were charged with money-laundering, conspiracy, planning to sell pot and possessing pot paraphernalia.

All of this sucks quite a bit, especially for the hostages, but also for the medical-marijuana community at large.

But before you flap your arms and offer a hue and cry about patients being abused, and rights being forestalled, and doctor-patient relations being violated, put down the vaporizer tube, and step away from the Volcano. Please allow me to point out a couple of things that are probably more likely to piss you off than put your mind at ease.

You do not have the right to smoke, grow, eat, sell, trade, carry, store, infuse, cook or otherwise possess or distribute or give away marijuana. Period. Many of us think that because we voted for it in Arizona, we suddenly have the right to roll smoke. In a guest post on Forbes.com, Seattle lawyer Wendy S. Goffe recently said that until federal laws change, state regulation remains "lipstick on a pig."

Of course, the Shop 420 case involves local jurisdictions, so federal law isn't at play. But it seems like the Shop 420 folks were flying a little too close even to the state-law sun. If you try to soar at that altitude, the SWAT team will burn your wings into painful, seared stumps. You will not fly again soon. Just ask the folks at Green Halo Caregiver Collective, where a similar raid happened in July.

The narco-alliance folks reported that the Shop 420 raids turned up fake MMJ cards and equipment to make them. If that's true, I have little sympathy for the people at Shop 420. None, in fact. Although it is a completely separate issue, those fake cards will now be inextricably linked to MMJ in the eyes of the gen pop, painting a picture in their minds that will be hard to overcome. Ouch.

I support Shop 420 in spirit, but taken as a whole, I think the way they were doing business gives MMJ a bad name. They were operating near at least one school and a church, which isn't inherently bad, but isn't allowed under the city's dispensary rules. Couldn't they have at least tried to be, or even appear to be, legit by putting their storefronts a little more in line with city pot rules? Yes, they could have.

Ultimately, it's a bad idea to open a collective in Arizona right now. It's a murky area of the law. Interestingly, no one in any Tucson raid has been charged with selling marijuana—the stated reason for the raids. I am not a lawyer, but it seems likely that prosecutors would have a hard time proving anyone sold marijuana at these places, because exchanges between patients and caregivers are allowed. Conspiracy to sell might offer an easier route to prosecution.

Time will tell.

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