Just as a crackdown on the city's medical marijuana dispensaries is being set in motion, the Obama administration is calling off the federal fight against sellers and buyers who abide by laws in California and 13 other states that allow the distribution of doctor-approved pot, the Associated Press is reporting.
Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice told the news service that the guidelines would be distributed the FBI, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and federal prosecutors in those states that approved medicinal marijuana. The idea, officials said, is to avoid wasting agents' time arresting people who are abiding by state laws.
The policy flies in the face not only of longstanding Bush administration policy, which had federal agents raiding dispensaries in California at times, but also against the current administration's own Attorney General, Eric Holder, who has said he wants the Department of Justice to pursue those who violate federal drug laws. Regardless of the Golden State's stance, marijuana is still an outlaw drug under a 1970 law passed by Congress.
Nonetheless, 14 states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington) have defied Washington's edict, and now the city of Los Angeles alone has more than 800 dispensaries, making in the medicinal pop capital of the nation.
The explosion in pot sellers locally has inspired the county district attorney and the city attorney to declare that pretty much all of the local dispensaries are in violation of the law because they're not non-profit and they sell the drug over-the-counter – contrary to the state's 1996 allowing the nonprofit trade of pot for patients with doctors' notes. San Diego's district attorney, Bonnie Dumanis, seems to agree with the local lawmen, telling the New York Times that 14 recently raided dispensaries in her city comprise nothing more than “drug dealers.”
“I said publicly,” she told the paper, “if anyone thinks we're casting too big a net and we get a legitimate patient or a lawful collective, then show us your taxes, your business license, your incorporation papers, your filings with the Department of Corporations.”
We're guessing she heard crickets. Still, it puts local officials, so long upheld as lenient, if not compassionate, toward the evolution of drug laws, in a strange position: While federal agents once blessed by President George W. Bush are being put a short leash, the local law enforcers are barking. And they're ready to bite.