SAN FRANCISCO -- Less than two weeks after Attorney General Eric Holder announced plans for sweeping drug sentencing reform to help fix a "broken system," the Drug Enforcement Administration has ordered security and armored vehicle companies to quit serving state-legal cannabis providers, according to industry sources.
The DEA, an arm of Holder's Department of Justice, confirmed the order to The Huffington Post, but wouldn't elaborate.
Armored vehicles allow California's legal medical marijuana dispensaries a secure way to transport large amounts of cash. The services are critical, since federal authorities pressured banks and credit card companies to stop servicing the pot industry in 2011.
"In 2011 they closed our bank accounts, which forced us to handle and store cash on-site," said Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Oakland dispensary Harborside Healthcare, in a release. "Now they have denied us any secure way to transport that cash to those whom we owe money, like the City of Oakland and the California Board of Equalization.”
DeAngelo told The Huffington Post that the DEA's order contradicts the administration's stated policy.
"Either there is a very serious disconnect between the views of the administration and law enforcement on ground, or the administration is playing a cynical double game," DeAngelo said.
"The president says he has bigger fish to fry than go after individual users, but at nearly every step, his administration has tried to make it so those users are unable to purchase marijuana through safe and regulated means," said Tom Angell, chairman of policy group Marijuana Majority.
Angell argued that the move will increase crime.
"By pressuring banks not to do business with dispensaries, the federal government ensures that many of these taxpaying businesses have to become cash-only, increasing the chances of robberies," Angell continued.
Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the order smacks of hypocrisy.
"It is fair to ask whether they are more concerned with maintaining public safety or maintaining their marijuana-fighting jobs," argued Tvert. "Their actions certainly suggest the latter."
Kevin A. Sabet, a former Obama administration drug policy adviser and author of Reefer Sanity: Seven Great Myths About Marijuana, said medical marijuana dispensaries are exactly the kind of large-scale drug offenders that Holder has promised to target for federal enforcement. Though California law allows medical marijuana, the drug remains illegal to use or possess under federal law.
"I don't think marijuana store owners who rake in big bucks should be terribly surprised," Sabet said. "They are thumbing their noses at both state and federal law, and collecting millions of dollars in the process. The administration has reiterated that while it won't go after granny smoking weed, it will target high-level operations. It's hard to argue that these shops -- who have to use armored cars to transport millions of dollars from their shops daily because they are targets for robbery -- aren't high-level. The feds don't want to make breaking the law easy for these money-soaked marijuana stores."
Sabet said the clinics' security concerns show why pot should be available in pharmacies, which would require a change to federal laws. [UPDATE: Sabet emailed to clarify that he only supports the distribution of "nonsmoked medications based on marijuana's ingredients" through pharmacies, not marijuana itself.]
"There are robberies and deaths as it is -- it's the illegal drug business," Sabet said. "And with the money these guys are making, I'm sure they will be able to create their own armored cars that discreetly transfer their cash."