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Why Are California Medical Marijuana Laws So Hazy? Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

Last week we began a series of blogs surrounding California’s medical marijuana laws. Today we bring you Part 3 of that series. You can follow the links above for Parts 1 and 2.

Today’s blog focuses on the federal government’s recent crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, and how federal law is handcuffing local California municipalities from being able to safely regulate the medical marijuana industry.

The legal difficulties that cities throughout California are facing when deciding how to regulate medical marijuana use revolves around one key case – Pack v. Superior Court (2011) 199 Cal.App.4th 1070
In the case of Pack v. Superior Court, cities that have local regulations for medical marijuana establishments – such as permits and fees – are preempted by federal drug law. This means that California cities and counties have two options. They can either help Uncle Sam prosecute the Drug War or stand idly by. But local jurisdictions can’t actively contravene federal law with medical marijuana distribution permits, fees, and mandates for lab testing.

As a result, progressive cities with dispensary regulations have been forced to pause their programs. Conversely, cities and counties opposed to medical marijuana are using Pack to ban all clubs, and unregulated clubs now have legal cover to open without any rules.
If Pack stands, “we have an out-of-control industry we could not effectively regulate,” said Bob Shannon, Long Beach’s city attorney. “It’s a totally unacceptable set of circumstances, at least for us.”

In the interim, the federal government continues to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries throughout California. In response to the federal government’s crackdown, a coalition of medical marijuana patients, activists, dispensing centers, and concerned citizens has compelled public officials to stand up to recent federal attacks. Last week, the coalition San Francisco United for Safe Access (SFUSA) held a press conference with several city supervisors and state officials, decrying the Obama Administration’s aggressive tactics before a crowd of more than 500 supporters. By Friday, SFUSA had secured a statement from Mayor Lee, expressing his opposition to “recent federal actions targeting duly permitted Medicinal Cannabis Dispensaries…that aim to limit our citizens’ ability to have safe access to the medicine they need.”

“By opposing federal interference, San Francisco officials are taking a stand for patients and for sensible public health policy,” said Americans for Safe Access founder and Executive Director Steph Sherer. “The federal government must not be allowed to push patients into the illicit market without consequence.” Since U.S. Attorneys announced a concerted crackdown in California last October, more than 200 dispensaries have shut down as a result of threats to owners and their landlords. However, more than 1,000 locally compliant facilities still continue to operate in the state.

“The assault on medical marijuana patients currently underway by the Obama Administration is unprecedented in this country’s history, despite hollow proclamations to the contrary,” continued Sherer. “The intensity and breadth of the attacks has far surpassed anything we saw under the Bush Administration and has resulted in the roll-back of numerous local and state laws, not just in California.”

As it stands right now, federal law makes it difficult to impossible for California cities to regulate the medical marijuana industry, which even proponents of medicinal use of marijuana agree opens a Pandora’s box of potential problems. How the higher courts rule on cases like Pack vs. Superior court will have a dramatic effect on the future of medical marijuana laws here in California and across the nation.

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