In a press conference today, all four U.S. Attorneys in California announced that the administration will no longer ignore dispensaries and will actively prosecute many commercial operations. The attorneys said they will concentrate on criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture against the landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries or cultivation centers, and threaten action against certain commercial organizations. Multiple businesses throughout the state have been given 45 days to close down. To support the increased efforts to eliminate the medical marijuana industry, they claim that it has been overtaken by criminal organizations and harms communities, yet do not offer justification of these claims at the present time. In the absence of regulated and licensed dispensaries, however, many patients will likely be forced to obtain medical marijuana from street dealers and gangs, which will doubtless create additional law enforcement and public safety problems for California.
Despite campaign promises not to spend limited law enforcement resources interfering with state medical marijuana laws and a 2009 Department of Justice policy directive against targeting individuals acting in compliance with state medical marijuana laws, the U.S. Attorneys signaled that they now intend to prosecute individuals who provide that medicine to patients under safe, regulated conditions.
"How can the Obama administration say that it's fine for sick people to use this proven medicine, and yet tell them they can’t have any legal place to get it?” asked Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. “Medical marijuana isn't going away. Over 70 percent of Americans support making medical marijuana legal, and 16 states allow it.”
“The end result of the federal government's policy is to ensure that medical marijuana is sold illegally in most parts of the country, as well as to create needless suffering for patients who can't find a place to buy medical marijuana."
Since 2009, eight states have enacted or implemented laws that set high standards and strict regulations on medical marijuana dispensing, moving away from previous “gray market” models that lacked licensing or regulations. During the previous administration, targeting providers in California did not prevent marijuana profiteers from operating. Instead, a federal policy of interference with state medical marijuana laws pushes states towards programs with confusing legal gray areas and little to no control over the operation of providers.
We will be continuing to post updates on this issue and the response from the medical marijuana industry and patients.
For a full text of the Department of Justice press release, go here.