Can Regulations Stop Medical Marijuana Raids?


Yesterday Washington, D.C., and Boulder, Colorado, approved rules for medical marijuana dispensaries. The D.C. regulations, which implement a 1998 ballot initiative that Congress until recently prevented the District from enforcing, will allow up to eight dispensaries, which may grow no more than 95 plants each and supply patients with up to two ounces at a time (a limit the mayor is authorized to double if he thinks it's necessary). The covered conditions are HIV/AIDS, cancer, glaucoma, and any other "chronic and lasting disease." Unlike D.C., Boulder is imposing restrictions on existing dispensaries, which operate as "primary caregivers"* under Colorado's 2000 law allowing medical use of marijuana by patients with "chronic or debilitating medical conditions" such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, and glaucoma. The city already has granted sales tax licenses to about 100 marijuana businesses, although it's not clear how many are actually operating. The new regulations include hefty license fees ($5,000 to start, then $2,000 annually), location restrictions (dispensaries must be at least 500 feet from schools or day care centers), prohibition of on-site consumption, and a requirement that patients younger than 18 be accompanied by a parent or guardian. And then there's this:

Those businesses that grow the plant would be required to offset 100 percent of their electricity by purchasing wind power, participation in a community solar garden or on-site solar power.

Boulder's rules may be pre-empted by regulations the state legislature is considering.

In the May issue of Reason, Brian Doherty considered L.A.'s attempt to impose order on the city's medical marijuana dispensaries. While there are reasons to criticize many of the regulations that have been proposed in various jurisdictions, clarifying the requirements for growers and sellers will test the Justice Department's promise to leave medical marijuana suppliers alone when they comply with state law. It's one thing to argue about the meaning of caregiver or patient collective, quite another to raid government-licensed dispensaries that comply with specific regulations. In the case of D.C., the regulations will take effect only if Congress declines to override them, so they will have implicit federal approval. And in states such as Maine and Rhode Island, which explicitly allow state-licensed dispensaries, medical marijuana suppliers will be "in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws," as the Justice Department's policy demands.

*Addendum: Under California law, a "primary caregiver" is "the individual designated by the [patient] who has consistently assumed responsibility for the housing, health or safety of that person," and the state Supreme Court has said this means a primary caregiver must do more than supply marijuana. But the definition under Colorado law is looser: someone who "has significant responsibility for managing the well-being of a patient."