Events from around the country have made the future of legal medical marijuana use in America unclear at best. Medical marijuana dispensaries are facing pressure from federal agencies and even local governments that are forcing them out of business.
The federal government’s view of pot has not changed much since the first states started passing medical marijuana laws. Though states may pass laws allowing the use of pot for medical reasons, the federal law is clear in banning all marijuana use.
“Marijuana’s illegal under federal law and there are many things I could do as a result of that,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in an interview on NPR about possible legal action against large dispensaries. “I could bring a criminal action. I can bring a forfeiture action or both.”
“A marijuana industry is not off limits. And, if we have significant grow operations, if we have for-profit operations, certainly if those operations are having other impacts, negative impacts on their communities, that it isn’t something that we’re able to ignore.”
Two San Francisco dispensaries, the decade-old HopeNet and the 8-year-old lower Haight, closed their doors at the end of July after receiving warnings from Haag that threatened the owners with property seizure and stiff prison terms if they did not seize operations.
“The Justice Department sent our landlord one of those nasty letters,” said HopeNet co-founder Catherine Smith in an interview with a local news station. “So this is our D-Day, we have to leave.”
There have been federal raids high-profile sellers like Richard Lee of Oakland and Harborside Health Center, known from its role on the Discovery Channel series, “Weed Wars”. The feds have shut down dispensaries throughout California.
The federal government’s renewed focus may worry many advocates of medical marijuana, but U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesmen bill Solomon gave a statement to The Arizona Republic that suggested the feds are seeking a targeted approach.
“Specifically, the Department of Justice is focusing its limited resources on significant drug traffickers, not seriously ill individuals and their caregivers who are in compliance with applicable state medical-marijuana statutes,” Solomon said.
However, the federal threat is not the only one faced by medical marijuana advocates, users and suppliers. Local governments have taken steps to try to curb the use of medical marijuana.
The city council of Los Angeles voted unanimously to ban pot shops at the end of July 2012, which meant receiving a vote from an admitted medical marijuana user. The city made the move in response to an explosion in the number of dispensaries and reports of public and illicit use of the drug. There are more than 760 registered dispensaries in the city with another estimated 200 without proper registration.
The ban on dispensaries doesn’t ban access to marijuana. Medical patients and caregivers will be able to grow and share pot in groups of three or less. Patients can also go to dispensaries in other cities. The ban may be overturned depending on the results of a pending court case.
Other cities in the country have tried to undercut their state’s medical marijuana laws by enacting local laws that recriminalize use of the drugs. In Michigan, three cities in the Detroit Metropolitan area had anti-medical marijuana laws blocked by the State appeals court.
On Oct. 16, a federal court will hear oral arguments in a decade old rescheduling petition filed by a marijuana advocacy group. The group, Americans for Safe Access, want the DEA to reclassify marijuana from Schedule I (meaning highly addictive with no medical value) to a classification that would reflect the drug’s medical benefits. It will be the first time the medical merits of pot will be examined in a federal courtroom since 1994.
Despite the setbacks in America, there is evidence that the medicinal marijuana use will continue to grow on the international scene. Use of pot as a treatment option has begun to spread worldwide.
Isreal has become the world leader in the use of cannabis for medical treatment. What first began in the bone marrow transplant cancer ward in Isreal is now used by more than 10,000 patients who have government licenses to consume the drug.
“It’s not like we’re kids and we’re getting high and going out and partying. You take it, you’re by yourself usually, you just do it because you want to be in a better place. You don’t want to sit and stew in the pain,” says the whelelchair-bound Susan Malkah, who has been using cannabis for about two years. “It’s natural, it helps, you don’t have to fill your body full of chemicals. It’s terrific.”
The American company, Medical Marijuana Inc., plans to bring cannabis-based medical products to the 27 members of the European Union over the next two years. The company has establish the Canipa Holdings firm in Romania to handle the approval and marketing process.
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