Amanda Reiman, lecturer at the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare, policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.
02 October 2012
The Times' Sept. 27 editorial, "In a haze on pot policy," says, "In the face of this chaos, the federal crackdown is, to some, good news -- finally, definitive action is being taken to stem the uncontrollable expansion of medical marijuana franchises.” The federal crackdown in L.A. is thought to be in reaction to a void of attempted regulation. But while the city itself may have run into barriers to the regulation of medical marijuana, the industry has been working to ensure community safety and patient access.
A report from Greenwave Advisors, a "comprehensive research and financial analysis for the emerging legalized marijuana industry," projects that legal cannabis could be an industry with revenues of $35 billion by 2020 if marijuana is legalized at the federal level. To put that figure in perspective, $35 billion represents more annual revenue than the NFL (currently $10 billion), and is roughly on par with current revenues for the newspaper publishing industry ($38 billion) and the confectionary industry ($34 billion).
By a narrow margin, Arizona voters have given their OK to legalized medical marijuana for people with chronic or debilitating diseases. The decision makes Arizona the 15th state to approve a medical marijuana law. California was the first in 1996, and 13 other states and Washington, D.C., have followed suit.
For the past three decades, Uncle Sam has been providing patients with some of the highest grade marijuana around as part of a little-known program that grew out of a 1976 court settlement and created the country's first legal pot smoker. The program once provided 14 people government pot. Now, there are four left.
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.
Smoking, growing, buying, selling or merely possessing cannabis is a criminal offence, according to America's federal government. Ask the states, however, and you will get almost 50 different answers. In 13 of them possession of the drug has been decriminalised, meaning that tokers face only minor penalties if caught. In 23 it has been legalised for medical use. And in four—including, following ballot initiatives earlier this month, Alaska and Oregon—cannabis has been legalised outright. In all only 22 states, fewer than half the total, continue to treat the drug as criminal contraband under all circumstances.
Threatened medical-marijuana crackdowns by federal prosecutors in other states have stoked fears about whether state employees, dispensary owners and others could be punished for operating under Arizona's fledgling law. Although the Justice Department said in 2009 that it would not prosecute sick people using medical marijuana, U.S. attorneys in California and Washington state have told officials there that they do intend to enforce federal laws that prohibit manufacture and distribution of the drug.
A Colorado marijuana innovation is changing the way lawmakers in even the most conservative parts of the country talk about cannabis and is poised to create a rapid expansion in the number of states that have legalized marijuana in some way. But many marijuana advocates view the new political campaign with skepticism, fearing it could halt their movement's momentum. Taken to its logical conclusion, medical marijuana could be a "box canyon" for broader legalization efforts.
Several states have started reassessing their medical marijuana laws after stern warnings from the federal government that everyone from licensed growers to regulators could be subjected to prosecution.The ominous-sounding letters from U.S. attorneys in recent weeks have directly injected the federal government back into a debate that has for years been progressing at the state level.
In the design of America's founders, the states are supposed to be centers of democratic experiment. They're not supposed to be uniform. For example, even though alcohol Prohibition ended in 1933, local laws restricting sales exist in 33 states. In Arkansas, more than half of 75 counties prohibit alcohol sales. This design is why it is disturbing to us that the Obama administration has launched a crackdown on medical marijuana, which is legal in 16 states and the District of Columbia, the home of the federal government.
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.
Marijuana will continue to be considered a highly dangerous drug under federal law with no accepted medical uses, after a U.S. appeals court refused to order a change in the government's 40-year-old drug classification schedule. The decision keeps in place an odd legal split over marijuana, a drug deemed to be as dangerous as heroin and worse than methamphetamine by federal authorities, but one that has been legalized for medical use by voters or legislators in 20 states and the District of Columbia.
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.
When Obama first took office in 2009, he promised a drug policy more focused on public health. However, recent statements from the DEA and raids on medical marijuana providers have proved otherwise. External pressures are escalating as drug cartel-led violence across the border intensifies. Internal pressures are also becoming more widespread, as the public is seeing few changes affecting drug policy. Obama should seriously consider re-evaluating his approach to drug policy for his 2012 campaign.
The largest federal crackdown in the 13-year history of the state medical-marijuana law has sent Spokane's once-open medical-marijuana businesses diving deep underground. Most of the 50-some dispensaries abruptly closed. Those that remain are mostly word-of-mouth secrets. Contrast that to Seattle, where the city's embrace of medical marijuana encourages a flourishing business for storefront dispensaries, bakers, growers and lawyers. An unofficial count, based on Seattle business licenses and advertising websites, finds at least 75 storefront dispensaries open.
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.
A high-ranking U.S. Justice Department official who wrote a memo saying state medical marijuana laws do not provide immunity from federal prosecution refused to say whether a recent crackdown in California signals a shift in federal policy that may result in a crackdown in other states. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said the memo sent to U.S. attorneys in June speaks for itself, and he said U.S. attorneys have discretion in how federal law is enforced in their districts.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ruled that marijuana has "no accepted medical use" and should therefore remain illegal under federal law — regardless of conflicting state legislation allowing medical marijuana and despite hundreds of studies and centuries of medical practice attesting to the drug's benefits. Not only does this decision conflict with state laws, however, it also conflicts with a 1999 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the branch of the National Academy of Sciences charged with answering complex medical questions for Congress.
Marijuana is now legal under state law for medical purposes in 16 states and the District of Columbia, encompassing nearly one-third of the American population. More than 1,000 dispensaries provide medical marijuana; many are well regulated by state and local law and pay substantial taxes. But though more than 70 percent of Americans support legalizing medical marijuana, any use of marijuana remains illegal under federal law. Mr. Obama briefly showed a willingness to challenge the drug-war mind-set that permeates the federal drug-control establishment. He needs to show leadership and intervene now, to encourage and defend responsible state and local regulation of medical marijuana.
The authorities are pressuring landlords to shut down the shops or face possible loss of the real estate through the unconventional and low-key use of a civil statute designed primarily to seize the assets of drug-trafficking organizations. While some states have legalized medical marijuana businesses, the federal government does not recognize their authority to do so and has targeted the shops for violations of the 40-year-old Controlled Substances Act. The goal of the Justice Department's effort is to fight the medical marijuana industry, estimated at $1.7 billion annually, without confronting it head-on with costly and potentially embarrassing criminal prosecutions.