Politics

If Colorado's Licenses Can't Protect Medical Marijuana Dispensaries, Why Would California's?

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Last week the California Assembly approved a bill introduced by Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) that would create a state system for licensing and regulating medical marijuana growers and sellers. The Sacramento Bee says the supporters of the bill "argue that state oversight is critical to staving off federal raids on California's medical cannabis industry." That argument seems to make sense in light of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's promises of prosecutorial forbearance for medical marijuana suppliers who comply with state law. The idea is that explicitly authorizing dispensaries, which currently operate in a gray area under California law, will protect them from federal interference. The problem is that U.S. attorneys in states that allow medical use of marijuana have shown little inclination to implement the policy described by their boss.

"At the end of the day," a spokesman for Andr√© Birotte Jr., the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, declared last fall, "California law doesn't matter." Meanwhile, in Colorado, which already has taken the license-and-regulate route, U.S. Attorney John Walsh says all state-authorized dispensaries are fair game for raids, forfeiture, and prosecution. Although Walsh initially targeted dispensaries near schools (which are not necessarily violating state law), the Associated Press reported in March that his spokesman "said it's not possible to answer whether a shop in compliance with state rules and regulations and not located near a school would still face any trouble." If the Colorado Department of Revenue's Medical Marijuana Enforcement Division can't shield dispensaries from the feds, is there any reason to think that creating a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement within California's Department of Consumer Affairs, as Ammiano envisions, will provide more protection?

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]