Feds Crack Down on CA Medicinal Marijuana Providers
In 1996, the state of California broke new ground as the first state to pass a ballot initiative that legally allowed marijuana possession by residents with written doctor’s recommendations. It is known as the Compassionate Use Act and the California State Senate codified the wishes of California voters by passing S.B. 420 which facilitated the implementation of the ballot initiative across the state. The passage of this legislation raised questions concerning how to balance a state law that allowed for the legal possession of marijuana with federal law that qualified it as a controlled and illegal substance. Fifteen years later, those questions have still not been resolved—and the balancing act recently got more complicated and controversial.
In the beginning, and particularly during the Bush administration, raids, prosecutions and civil injunctions threatening landlords of marijuana dispensaries were common but did very little to thwart growing support for legalization of medical marijuana and the drug in general. It was only in early 2009 that the Obama administration announced it was planning a shift in the enforcement of federal drug laws: Prosecutors would no longer aggressively target medicinal marijuana users and providers as long as they followed state laws. However, this proclamation, was short lived.
In early October of this year, the four U.S. attorneys for California announced they would once again target marijuana dispensaries. The federal government alleges that as the threat of prosecution lessened after the Obama administration’s 2009 announcement, many of California’s medical marijuana dispensaries became more brazen and began to sell marijuana for profit, even though S.B. 420 requires them to operate on a not-for-profit basis.
The Justice Department isn’t the only federal entity now pursuing medicinal marijuana providers, and, taken together, these actions have set off a fury of activism against the federal government. Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group based in Oakland, California, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco that names Attorney General Holder and U.S. Federal Prosecutor Melinda Haag as the defendants. The lawsuit accuses Holder and Haag of violating the 10th amendment to the Constitution and interfering with state powers.
Citizens groups are not alone in this fight: Nine Members of Congress have sent a strongly worded letter to President Obama, calling on his administration to stop this crackdown.
In 2003, the URJ passed a resolution expressing support for federal, state and local laws that would “allow the medicinal use of marijuana for patients with intractable pain and other conditions, under medical supervision.” Surely those who are abusing such ordinances (for example, those who sell marijuana to minors or operate too closely to schools) should be prosecuted. We watch with caution the events in California and hope that patients suffering from many painful illnesses, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and multiple sclerosis, will not be denied access to medical marijuana.