The 43-year-old war on drugs had never seen such a barrage of opposition as it did in 2014, with successful marijuana legalization initiatives in several U.S. states, California’s historic approval of sentencing reform for low level drug offenders and world leaders calling for the legal regulation of all drugs — all of which cement the mainstream appeal of drug policy alternatives and offer unprecedented momentum going into 2015.
In a decision that could have immediate fallout for medical marijuana dispensaries, a state appeals court has ruled that California law allows cities and counties to ban the stores. The contentious issue has bounced through the state courts for years, but the opinion issued Wednesday is the first published one that directly tackles it and does so in unambiguous language. The decision could embolden more cities and counties to enact their own. It also could spur those that have bans to be more aggressive about seeking court orders to close defiant dispensaries.
Several members of California's congressional delegation are taking their concerns about a federal crackdown on the state's medical marijuana dispensaries directly to President Barack Obama. In a bipartisan letter signed by nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the lawmakers criticized what they called an "unconscionable" multi-state effort targeting medical marijuana dispensaries. They also called for the reclassification of marijuana as a controlled substance subject to fewer federal restrictions.
Weed is legal in at least some form in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Most allow it for medical use only. Colorado and Washington this year enacted laws that allow recreational use by adults. But more than two dozen states are considering new or expanded marijuana reform legislation, including complete legalization for adults, medical marijuana, hemp use and decriminalization. Which are the next five states likely to legalize marijuana?
The California Medical Association, representing more than 35,000 physicians statewide, questions the medical value of pot and acknowledges some health risk from its use but urges it be regulated like alcohol. It is the first major medical association in the nation to urge legalization of the drug. Dr. Donald Lyman, who wrote the group's new policy, attributed the shift to growing frustration over California's medical marijuana law, which permits cannabis use with a doctor's recommendation. That has created an untenable situation for physicians: deciding whether to give patients a substance that is illegal under federal law.
A proposed ballot initiative aimed for the November elections begs a key question looming over California's medical marijuana industry: Can stricter state regulation keep the federal government from shutting it down? Dispensaries, medical marijuana growers and a powerful union local are rallying behind an initiative that would regulate California's $1.5 billion pot trade.
A U.S. magistrate judge on Thursday sided with federal prosecutors in dismissing a lawsuit by the city of Oakland that challenged as illegal federal attempts to shutter the nation's largest medical marijuana dispensary. In filing the suit last October, Oakland became the first city to take on federal enforcement actions that have led to the closure of hundreds of dispensaries in recent years.
Recently, the California Medical Association, representing more than 35,000 physicians, the largest statewide physician organization in America, boldly decided to adopt a different, more pragmatic approach to the polarizing issue of marijuana decriminalization. The decision – the result of a carefully considered process, painstakingly researched and debated for more than one year – is centered on one concern above all others: patient safety.
Four California-based U.S. attorneys have announced their intent to prosecute the medical-marijuana dispensaries, growers and delivery services that are breaking state and federal laws. What constitutes violations of law, however, is murky — and may put the very existence of the dispensaries at risk. "California law says that it's essentially O.K. to grow, have and transport marijuana if you're a patient authorized by a doctor or if you're the patient's primary caregiver and if you're providing the marijuana not for profit," a spokesman for the U.S. attorney says. "Stores are violating California law because they're operating at a profit and they're not a primary caregiver. It's very clearly laid out."
A day after federal prosecutors moved to shutter the country's largest medical marijuana dispensary, city leaders and other officials came to the defense of Harborside Health Center, warning of dire economic and social consequences if Oakland's carefully regulated industry is quashed. "We cannot afford the money, we cannot afford the waste of law enforcement resources, and we cannot afford the loss of jobs that this would entail," City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan said.
A showdown over the fate of the country's largest medical marijuana dispensary heads to federal court, and the outcome could hint at what lies ahead as a growing number of states opt for legalization. This fall, Oakland became the first municipality to sue federal prosecutors in an attempt to block them from shuttering a medical cannabis facility.
Los Angeles politicians have struggled for more than five years to regulate medical marijuana, trying to balance the needs of the sick against neighborhood concerns that pot shops attract crime. Voters will head to the polls to decide how Los Angeles should handle its high with three competing measures that seek to either limit the number of dispensaries or allow new ones to open and join an estimated several hundred others that currently operate.
In California, cradle of the marijuana movement, a new poll has found a majority of voters do not support legalization, even as they overwhelmingly back medicinal use for "patients with terminal and debilitating conditions." Eighty percent of voters support doctor-recommended use for severe illness, a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found. But only 46% of respondents said they support legalization of "general or recreational use by adults," while 50% oppose it.
The Los Angeles City Council is plainly out of its depth when it comes to regulating medical marijuana. This was already clear after years of fumbling and court-delayed attempts to limit the number or locations of cannabis dispensaries, but it became painfully obvious when the council approved a ban on all dispensaries — along with a separate motion to draft an ordinance that would allow well-established pot shops to stay open, partially defeating the council's own purpose.
After struggling for years to regulate storefront pot shops, the Los Angeles City Councilretreated Tuesday, voting to repeal the carefully crafted ban on medical marijuana dispensaries it approved a few months ago. The move shows the political savvy of the increasingly organized and well-funded network of marijuana activists who sought to place a referendum overturning the ban on the March ballot, when the mayor and eight council seats will be up for grabs.
One year after federal law enforcement officials began cracking down on California’s medical marijuana industry with a series of high-profile arrests around the state, they finally moved into Los Angeles last month, giving 71 dispensaries until Tuesday to shut down. At the same time, because of a well-organized push by a new coalition of medical marijuana supporters, the City Council last week repealed a ban on the dispensaries that it had passed only a couple of months earlier.
The Obama administration's crackdown on California's highly profitable medical marijuana industry represents a dramatic departure from the low-key approach it has long pursued. California's four U.S. attorneys said that they are taking aim at large-scale growers and dispensary owners who are raking in millions of dollars while falsely claiming that their medical marijuana operations comply with state law, which does not allow for-profit sales.
Federal prosecutors are threatening to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California, sending letters that warn landlords to stop sales of the drug within 45 days or face the possibility that their property will be seized and they will be charged with a crime. 'It's a complete about-face' of Obama's promise not to target users of medical pot in states that allow it, one group's attorney says.
Californians need to be honest with themselves: The marijuana industry that is flourishing in plain sight is not really about medicine. No question, some patients with HIV/AIDS, glaucoma, cancer and other serious conditions are getting much-needed relief from medical marijuana. But the law is so loosely structured that almost anyone who wants to smoke marijuana or grow it for sale to dispensaries can do so with near impunity - at least from the state - under the voter-passed Proposition 215 of 1996.
Marijuana activists in California are gearing up this week for a flurry of statewide protests during President Obama's October 25 visit to the Bay Area, and then again for the election in the first week of November. The recent federal crackdown, in other words, is galvanizing the weed community. "We're pushing them back," said Stephen DeAngelo, founder of Harborside Health Center in Oakland. The medical cannabis club has started a legal defense fund to fight a recent $2.5 million IRS bill. "We're already beginning to regain momentum from this outrageous travesty of a federal assault."