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Monday, October 10, 2011

California Medical Marijuana Under Fire

In 1996 California became the first state to allow a medical marijuana program to provide sick patients with cannabis. As a result, what seemed like overnight, the marijuana industry became big business “over the table”. There are people who feel that medical marijuana helps them more than any other prescription drug and in that manner medical marijuana programs are a good thing and a step towards ending the prohibition. However, as individuals starting making more and more money on distributing marijuana it has caused federal officials to step in. While California may have been the model that other states followed in implementing their own medical marijuana programs, every state is different and has their own rules and regulations regarding the distribution of the product - with a lot more oversight than California.

The New York Times reports that the United States attorneys in California have told dozens of marijuana dispensaries to close their doors or face criminal and civil action. Last Friday, four U.S. attorneys stated that they would prosecute landlords who rent space to operators of medical marijuana dispensaries. They claim that such dispensaries are using the state’s medical marijuana law to profit from large-scale drug sales, worth tens of millions of dollars’ and the drug is crossing state lines which is illegal.

The attorneys will not be focusing on individual patients, they are focusing on commercial operations. “Large commercial operations cloak their money-making activities in the guise of helping sick people when they are in fact helping themselves,” said Benjamin B. Wagner, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento. “Our interest is in enforcing federal criminal law, not prosecuting seriously ill sick people and those who are caring for them.”

Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote a policy memo to federal prosecutors that states, “Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law.”

Unfortunately, the federal government may be biting off more than they can chew, with 15 states actively allowing medical marijuana programs it may be hard to crack down, let alone single out California. What’s more, there are more people requiring medical marijuana than there are growers, let alone distributors; closing down dispensaries might force the market to go back underground opening the doors for cartels and gangs to come back into the picture.

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