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The Fight Against Medical Marijuana

The pushback against medical marijuana is gaining momentum.

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By Paul Gaita

06/26/14

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Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for medical use. But some lawmakers want to halt pot’s progress before the reform movement reaches their state.

On January 21, 2014, New York became the twenty-third state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana. The Compassionate Care Act had a lengthy and often tumultuous path to passage, due largely to concerns from Governor Andrew Cuomo about manufacturing and distribution that impacted California during its early days of legalization. To address these issues Cuomo added several significant restrictions to the bill, including the right to suspend the entire program if recommended by the State Police Superintendent or Commissioner of Health, much to the dismay of medical marijuana advocates. The struggle over the Compassionate Care Act echoes a series of battles over legal medical marijuana waged in courtrooms and state capitals across the United States. When taken as a whole, the conflict shows that the path to legalization is not as straight and simple as advocates – and critics – may think.

Opposition to medical marijuana has presented itself in a myriad of forms, from outside interest groups to government officials (as well as the head of the Catholic Church) and ranged in terms of impact on medical marijuana from moderately restrictive to draconian. Dispensaries in Northern California have faced a range of regulations from state and local government, from location restrictions to outright closure. In San Jose, city council members voted to limit the number of existing dispensaries while also imposing strict requirements on store hours, security and other issues. Florida’s Amendment 2, which requires doctors and patients to be certified before receiving medical marijuana through authorized dispensaries, faces a two-pronged oppositional front from both the state Sheriffs Association, which believes that the amendment will increase crime and increase taxes, and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a major contributor to Governor Rick Scott’s re-election campaign who has donated $2.5 million to the “Don’t Let Florida Go To Pot” campaign.

Republicans in Texas briefly supported an amendment at their GOP Convention this month that allowed residents of their state to access medical marijuana, but quickly reversed their decision and voted against the amendment under focused pressure from opposition representatives. In Minnesota as well as New York, patients are legally allowed to use medical marijuana – but only in pill and vapor form; smoking marijuana leaves is strictly prohibited in both states. The move has been condemned by pot advocates, who say that it places further restrictions on residents who need the drug and will be forced to seek out these less readily available forms. In Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Corbett was recently quoted as saying that he would not reconsider his opposition to medical marijuana even if his grandson developed a medical condition that would be alleviated by its use. Perhaps the most dramatic show of opposition has surfaced in Boston, where area doctors have said that agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency pressured them to either resign their position with medical marijuana dispensaries or lose the right to prescribe certain medications.

With such an array of roadblocks in the path of reform, does medical marijuana stand a chance of gaining any further ground in the remaining 27 states? Thankfully, the decision does not lie completely in the hands of legislators. Support for legal medical marijuana stands at 60 % with the American public, according to a Huffington Post/YouGov poll. In Florida, where some of the most heated battles have taken place, residents remain extremely favorable towards passing a medical marijuana bill, with polls noting that between 66 and 70% of Floridians stand behind the movement. The future of legal medical marijuana seems to be summed up by Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett, whose own constituents back its legalization by 85%. “We have laws that have been passed,” he said to reporters after a speech to the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference. “If we believe the laws should be changed, then let’s change them.”

Paul Gaita is a Los Angeles-based writer. He has contributed to The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Amazon and The Los Angeles Beat, among other publications and sites.

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