Showdown in California over medical marijuana, as feds crack down
Four US Attorneys in California said Friday they are targeting growers and distributors who use California's medical marijuana law as a cover to engage in illegal drug trafficking.
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Last November, California voters considered a ballot proposition that would have legalized growing and possessing marijuana for an individual's personal use. After a battle that saw public opinion see-saw, voters rejected the measure. But the fight energized those on the side of decriminalizing marijuana, who now see the Justice Department enforcement effort as backpedaling on the administration's earlier stance.Skip to next paragraph
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“The administration seems to think that by shutting down licensed and regulated dispensaries in California it will curtail illicit marijuana production and distribution, but nothing could be further from the truth,” said Morgan Fox, communications manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, in an e-mail. “This will only serve to push more patients into the underground market, and remove the incentives of legality and protection from arrest that ensured that most of the medical marijuana industry followed the strictest of guidelines.”
In the past month, about 16 California dispensaries have received letters from federal prosecutors warning them to stop sales within 45 days or risk property seizure and criminal charges.
"The department has maintained that we will not focus our investigative and prosecutorial resources on individual patients with serious illnesses ... or their immediate caregivers," said deputy US Attorney James Cole, in a statement. "However, US Attorneys continue to have the authority to prosecute significant violations" of the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Groups that advocate legalization or medical marijuana laws have long held that law enforcement agencies should concentrate their resources on violent crime rather than on shuttering what they say are legitimate businesses and patient care.
"Why these stepped-up efforts now?" asks Paul Armentano, deputy director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “The answer is self-evident. The intention of these and other recent, well-publicized threats by the Obama administration is to stifle the development of a viable legal cannabis distribution industry, even in states that have enacted legislation to allow for such an industry."