Chronic City: Feds Lighten Up On Medical Marijuana Just As L.A. Tightens The Screws

Photo by Rotbuche, Wikimedia Commons
Let my people grow.
In a stunning bit of role reversal, law enforcement officials in dispensary-heavy Los Angeles County are gearing up for a massive mobilization against hundreds of pot shops even while the Obama administration backs away from the federal government's traditional role as Marijuana enforcer in the states where medical pot is legal.

Today, the administration sent new, more relaxed medical Marijuana guidelines to federal prosecutors in the 14 states which have legalized weed for patients. Under the new policy, the federal government will not seek to arrest medical Marijuana users and suppliers as long as they conform to state laws.

Two Justice Department officials described the new policy to The Associated Press, saying prosecutors will be told "it is not a good use of their time to arrest people who use or provide medical Marijuana in strict compliance with state laws."

While keeping a promise President Barack Obama made on the campaign trail in 2008 and since affirmed by Attorney General Eric Holder, the new policy is a significant departure from the Bush administration line, which continued to enforce harsh, Nixon-era federal anti-pot laws regardless of state codes.

To the relief of advocates of safe access for legal medical Marijuana patients, they now have it in writing. A three-page memo spelling out the policy was expected to be sent today to federal prosecutors in the 14 states, and also to top officials at the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), according to AP.

Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office
"Approximately Zero": Los Angeles D.A. Steve Cooley
​ Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, L.A. County Prosecutor Steve Cooley says that "approximately zero" of the 800-odd dispensaries in his county are operating legally. The hot-dogging Cooley comes to this interesting figure by assuming -- contrary to existing practice for at least five years since S.B. 420 allowed patient collectives -- that any over-the-counter exchange of Marijuana for cash is inherently illegal.

Even Oakland's tightly regulated medical Marijuana industry -- considered a model of workability, practicality, and, well, taxability around the state -- wouldn't be classified as legal under Cooley's restrictive model. An ordinance to tax sales of medical Marijuana passed with 80 percent of the vote this year in Oakland, but in the unlikely event Oakland came to share Cooley's ultra-narrow interpretation of the state law, the more than $300,000 per year of Marijuana money currently rolling into city coffers would come to a choking halt.

Cooley's "legal" approach to undermining Proposition 215, passed by California voters 13 years ago, hasn't yet survived the first brutal round of court challenges undoubtedly to come. His fringe definition of what constitutes, in contravention of the medical Marijuana law, "sales for profit" seems fragile to many observers of the scene.

In any event, owners and operators of the 800-plus dispensaries in Los Angeles County are holding their collective breath, and not because they just inhaled that last hit of kush. It's possible that the City of Angels' headlong ride into a weed-friendly culture could be about to go up in flames.

Cooley's proposed hard-line approach may have been inspired by another anti-pot crusader down the coast. A dispensary crackdown has already begun in San Diego County, where last month, police officers and sheriff's deputies, along with agents from the federal DEA, raided 14 Marijuana dispensaries and arrested 31 people. San Diego County D.A. Bonnie Dumanis told the press that state laws governing medical Marijuana were unclear and that the city had not yet instituted new regulations.

Dumanis said that she approved of medical Marijuana clubs where patients grow and use their own Marijuana, but that, darn it all, not one of the 60 or so dispensaries in the county operated that way. Observers marvel at Dumanis' continued efforts to cast herself as "patient friendly," even while kicking in doors of dispensaries and providers like Eugene Davidovich, who would certainly appear to the casual observer to be working within the guidelines established by California Attorney General Jerry Brown (PDF).

The California State Senate recently urged the federal government to stop DEA raids on medical Marijuana patients and providers. The Sen. Mark Leno-authored resolution additionally called for the nation to "create a comprehensive federal medical Marijuana policy that ensures safe and legal access to any patient that would benefit from it."

While they're at it, maybe they should let the folks in Los Angeles and San Diego know.

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