Rant & Rave: Marijuana Enforcement and NSA Dragnet Surveillance

November 22 2013, 12:15 PM

Rant: Marijuana Enforcement Remains Muddled

On Thursday, federal, state, and local law enforcement from multiple agencies staged raids on medical marijuana facilities and grow operations around the Front Range. In the largest such endeavor since medical marijuana opened for business in Colorado, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Internal Revenue Service, and others smashed windows, seized plants, and carted off boxes of evidence. As of Thursday afternoon, it was unclear whether any arrests were made, and law enforcement officials remained tight-lipped about what prompted the unexpected show of force. (UPDATE: On Friday, Westword reported that the busts may be tied to a now-incarcerated Florida-based jewel thief who's known among his cohort as "Tony Montana." So there's that.)

The raids seem to be designed to ferret out those who the agencies suspect of hiding behind Colorado's medical and recreational marijuana laws while flouting federal regulations. (The presence of the IRS, in particular, suggests these businesses might be under investigation for hiding illicit profits.) If this display were intended to remove the bad apples from the bunch before the law-abiding recreational weed entrepreneurs open for business, fair enough; most people in the industry would actually welcome that. If it turns out to be a bullying move by the feds, a group that has stated on several occasions that it won't harass people who are following the new state laws, that's a whole other topic.

What makes less sense is the Denver city council's ongoing discussions about whether to outlaw marijuana smoking on one's front porch or yard. This was supposedly resolved a few weeks ago, but the council will revisit the issue when it holds a public hearing on Monday.

The concern of some is that smoking marijuana in the front yard would be offensive to any passers-by and sends the wrong message about the drug to children. But while it's logical to want to restrict full-blown pot parties from breaking out all over Denver, banning all front-yard smoking just seems silly. (People's backyards evidently have escaped such scrutiny because there are more fences and aren't the "public face" of one's property.)

But in case you hadn't noticed, Denver is a city. Cities often have backyards, fenced or not, that are in close proximity to each other. Also, fences do nothing to keep the odor that certain people seem so concerned about from wafting into neighboring yards. By issuing a front-yard ban on weed while doing nothing to prevent open cigarette smoking or the drinking of alcohol—both of which can be more harmful than marijuana—the city council that professes to be so concerned about "messages" would be sending precisely the wrong one.

Rave: Senator Udall's NSA Challenge Deserves More Attention 

And speaking of governmental overreach, this week Colorado Senator Mark Udall joined senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) in challenging the federal government's ongoing National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program.

With all the recent noise about sequesters, shutdowns, and the Obamacare rollout, the NSA spying controversy has received far less notice than it deserves. But thanks to Senator Udall and his allies, all of them members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, we now know that—according to the senators' "extensive review"—the mass collection of Americans' personal phone records have produced virtually no useful new intelligence that couldn't have been obtained in a more reasonable way. These officials have also concluded that the government's broad interpretation of surveillance laws could result in even more intrusive intelligence-gathering practices.

The senators have filed an amicus brief with the federal district court that's hearing a case challenging the government's right to conduct such operations. Its resolution could affect domestic spying efforts now and in the future and should be closely tracked by anyone interested in basic rights to speech and privacy. Because if we lose our individual or collective voice, any other debate about any other issue becomes essentially meaningless. Thank goodness there still are a scant few people in Congress who are willing to defend some of democracy's most basic and essential principles.

—Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.