Justice Department Could Crack Down on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

A new memo from the Department of Justice could threaten production of medical marijuana, even in states like California, where cultivation of marijuana for sale to people with medicinal licenses is legal.  This seems to be a response to plans among marijuana growers, advocates, and even some city politicians, to create authorized commercial centers of cultivation.

In a letter sent earlier this week to federal prosecutors, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole wrote that the Obama administration, which generally takes a hands-off approach to prosecuting medical marijuana operations, “never intended to shield such activities from federal enforcement action and prosecution, even where those activities purport to comply with state law.”  The “activities” to which Cole refers are “cultivation of large quantities of marijuana, or broadening the regulation and taxation of the substance.”

In other words, this derails localized plans to turn marijuana into a large-scale, privately operated industry, which the city of Oakland in particular had been eyeing.  It also does not bode well for large-scale medical marijuana dispensaries.  ”I would be hearing, ‘If you get too big, we may well put a target on your back,’” explained Joe Elford, chief counsel for Americans for Safe Access.

According to a recent report, the legal marijuana business registered $1.7 billion in sales last year.  If, as Oakland had planned, cities allowed marijuana to be cultivated on a large scale, the new procedures could mean millions of additional dollars in tax revenue.  Jeff Wilcox, an entrepreneur, put the dilemma bluntly: “Oakland is so broke, and Oakland is going to be more broke next year and the year after.”

The city of Berkeley was also planning to move to similar operations, albeit on a much smaller scale.  Essentially, the city’s marijuana-growing collectives would move to industrial facilites, allowing Berkeley officials to control for faulty conditions that could lead to fires, and inspecting the crops to ensure that they’re free of pesticides.  Now, however, prospects seem to be dim.

The memo is puzzling because, during his campaign, Barack Obama said that the federal government should not prosecute medical marijuana growers and caregivers.  Shortly after his inauguration, the justice department issued a memo explaining that this would be the administration’s official policy.

Now, the justice department says that it’s “clarifying” the previous memo, but in a way that makes it impossible for cities to move forward with commercial cultivation, and may also threaten the large-scale dispensaries that sprang up in the wake of the original policy.

The new guidelines have implications for the handful of states where medical marijuana is legal, and where growing the drug is fraught with legal complications.  While it may be logical to assume that since marijuana is legal for medical use in these states, that it should be grown industrially and taxed, the federal government seems determined to make that impossible.  Why the Obama administration is cracking down on large-scale pot production is unclear.  But the guidelines are sure to create more tensions between state and federal governments on such a potentially lucrative enterprise, as well as threatening the chronically ill people who use marijuana to alleviate pain.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.


christopher murray

memo to the rest of the world, the federal government that currently is waging a prohibition on drugs, spends millions of dollars on a program they run in co-operation with the U. of Mississippi called the Compassionate IND propgram, that involves the college growing federally funded marijuana that is sued to treat gravely ill patients, many of whom outlived those with the same illnesses who took convential medication.

Darlina Duarte
Darlina Duarte5 years ago

. I choose not to use marijuana and could certainly use it legally but for those people who do make the choice to use it over pain medication has every right to do it and the Government needs to just mind their own damn business. Maybe they all need to suffer day in and day out like we do, maybe they need to speed their time and money on things that actually matter and would help everyone instead of bothering the ones who just want to be pain free and who are not bothering anyone else. This is stupid, it's a plant, leave these people alone and allow them to live pain free instead of just existing.

Darlina Duarte
Darlina Duarte5 years ago

I am so sick and tired of the Government sticking their noses where it doesn't belong, clean up their own backyards before walking on ours. Now where it is legal to use and has been voted into law I do not think the Government has ANY RIGHT to try and prosecute and where it has not been voted in I think those states should try harder to make it law.I also have no problem with each STATE taxing the sells of medical marijuana as it would help these states and I am sure people buying it would be more than happy to pay those taxes as long as it remains legal to them. I am totally against street drugs and use to be against Marijuana also but after talking to people and talking to my brother who is in a wheel chair due to being an amputee from diabetes I am totally for this. We talked one day and I asked him why he would do this instead of taking pain pills and he told me that he was on pain pills for so long that it started hurting his stomach everytime he took it and then it started affecting his kidneys and so he tried marijuana and it has no side affects and helps him more than any pain pill ever could. I understood this very well as my abdomen has never closed after a 1999 hysterectomy and I have been on pain pills now for over 12 years and my stomach burns when I take them, my kidneys hurt and lets not forget the addiction one gets to pain meds after taking them for even a short period of time. I choose not to use marijuana and could certainly use it legally but for those pe

Patricia A.
Patricia A.5 years ago

For God's sake get the pot out of the war on drugs. It's a plant and it is not addictive, it's a miracle drug for medicinal purposes that many people need for relief. If Congress had any sense at all it would be federally legalized throughout the U.S. and we would not be going through such tough economical times if our states had revenues and taxation for this product.

Ashley Pepe
Ashley Pepe5 years ago

Oh yes! And everyone here should watch 'The Union'! It's a very well done BC documentary on the craziness of prohibition, and has lots of the history and very interesting facts on marijuana. Someone please get President Obama to watch it, it's a life changing film. Mr. President, stop giving payouts to criminals! The 'War on Drugs' only gives power and money to thugs and gangs and makes dead cops!

Ashley Pepe
Ashley Pepe5 years ago

Grace, there have been hundreds if not thousands of studies done on the benefits of pot as a medicine. It's one of those rare drugs (because it's all natural) that has absolutely no side effects, not even physical addiction. The range of diseases and disorders that marijuana helps treat is mind boggling, it is a miracle drug. Let's not let this simple plant be controlled by big pharma! Those people do not deserve it. Anyone could grow it, it should be free like any other plant in nature. The people that grow marijuana to sell for medicine have families to support, let's not shut them down and take away their livelihood!

K s Goh
KS Goh5 years ago

Thanks for the article.

paul c.
paul c.5 years ago

It's POT, for God's sake. Get over it.

Lindsey Williams
Lindsey Williams5 years ago

thanks for sharing.

Adam Robb
J. Adam Robb5 years ago

I am 51 1/2 yrs. old have adult ADHD that goes untreated as I can't afford the legal medicine prescribed me at $100 a pop, and that was as of 08' it could be higher now. When I was diagnosed on 06', I'd told my doctor openly everything about myself, my diet, my pot usage, etc. he proceeded to tell me that once i became an adult, though I didn't take anything for it as a kid, (I was basically passed along in school and barely graduated with a GED after dropping out for lack of attendence), that we find our own way to self-medicate. He told me from what I'd told him that I started smoking pot at age 19, and discovered Mello Yello at age 21, and did those two consistantly for some 30 years that this was my medicine, which slowed my brain down enough to focus and consentrate better. So why after 74+ years of marijuna prohibition isn't it legal yet. Stop messing with my meds, lets legalize, stop sending peacefull pot smokers to prison/jail and throwing our money away on a LOSING battle in the War on Drugs, shall we?
This next presidential election, lets not vote anyone into office that is not gonna legalize full scale to free up this money that's being wasted to use for programs and whatever else we could use it better for to help people out, rather than adding to our problems with the laws., Let's send a message with our votes, though it may not seem like it, they do notice.