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Obama's War Against Medical Marijuana

Confusion reigns as the feds relentlessly turn up the heat on states with medical marijuana dispensaries.

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Is it legal? Nobody seems to know.
Photo via oplawblog

By Kirwan Gray

05/04/11

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It’s been a tough few weeks for the medical marijuana movement. Given the president's contradictory declarations on the subject, early hopes that his administration would tolerate state legislation aimed at creating dispensaries for medical marijuana are now fading fast. And of course, pot remains strictly illegal at the federal level. Meanwhile, states that have loosened up marijuana laws have been having a very hard time. The Colorado legislature has gone back and forth so often on its own version of pot-for-patients statutes that several cities in the state have simply given up and passed local ordinances forbidding the outlets entirely.

Backpedaling of this kind led famed “ganjapreneur” Brian Cook to decamp from Colorado to Arizona, a state he believes will be more welcoming of medical dispensaries. “Our headquarters is now in Scottsdale, and we're finding it advantageous to attach primarily to Arizona,” he said in the Denver Westword blog (See "Why Colorado's Marijuana Makers Are at a Loss").

Montana recently passed a marijuana bill that was so packed with conflicting qualifications that the Montana governor refused to sign it. (It will become law nonetheless). The final Montana legislation, as explained by the Colorado Independent, “does not outlaw medical marijuana, but medical marijuana advocates say it might as well. The law would require all patients to get multiple doctors to sign off on their need for marijuana. It would also shut down marijuana dispensaries and limit caregivers to only three patients each.” A series of well-timed raids on Montana growers by federal authorities did not help matters in the state legislature.

Federal officials have been relentlessly on the prowl, threatening states that the government is fully prepared to use civil or criminal penalties to arrest large-scale operators if they have to, according to the Associated Press. U.S. attorneys even went so far as to hint that state employees themselves may be held liable for prosecution on grounds of aiding and abetting the pot regulations. The threats were enough to convince Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire to take the opposite approach from the Montana governor, vetoing his legislature’s effort to create licensed marijuana dispensaries in the state. Federal raids also targeted at least two dispensaries in Spokane “one day before Gregoire decided to veto the proposed law.”

And in New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie may put a hold on that state’s preparations for medical marijuana legislation. A spokesperson for the governor said that letter from U.S. attorneys “raised serious questions about legal jeopardy.”

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