A rude federal awakening from medical pot dreams

The feds have come down – hard – on the Legislature’s plans to expand medical  marijuana far beyond the voters’ original mandate. Marijuana enthusiasts have  only themselves to blame.

Gov. Chris Gregoire did the state a favor Wednesday by trying to clarify how  the U.S. Department of Justice might react to the free-wheeling dope industry  many lawmakers having been pushing to legalize with a new bill.

The two U.S. attorneys who cover Washington quickly spelled out their likely  response: fines, property forfeitures, lawsuits and possible criminal  prosecutions. Individual state officials might be targeted if they licensed grow  operations and dispensaries, as the measure proposes.

Later Thursday, Gregoire said she would veto the legislation as written.

Read the U.S. attorneys’ letter and you’ll see where they’re coming from. The  Justice Department, they said, isn’t interested in pursuing “seriously ill  individuals who use marijuana as part of a medically recommended treatment  regimen in compliance with state law.”

But marijuana profiteers – be they enabling doctors, retailers, wholesalers,  processors or growers – are a different story.

In Washington and elsewhere, they have defied both state and federal law to  turn medical marijuana into a commercial industry replete with marijuana shops,  festive farmers markets and clinics that do nothing but prescribe marijuana – often quite loosely. The City of Tacoma alone has recklessly licensed 35  dispensaries, with seven more on the way.

Thumb your nose at the feds often enough and openly enough, and sooner or  later you wind up in their cross hairs. It was foolish to extrapolate the  Justice Department’s sympathy for legitimate patients to a tolerance of any kind  of trafficking that labeled itself “medical marijuana.”

For lawmakers, it’s back to the drawing board. Sick people who genuinely need  marijuana should be able to get it, legally, without having to grow it  themselves. Shared gardens, nonprofit dispensaries and co-ops might not have  triggered federal scrutiny if big money hadn’t been changing hands – and they  would have reflected the spirit of the 1998 initiative that legalized medical  marijuana under tight restrictions.

The state Senate would have addressed some of the federal concerns. Its  version of the marijuana bill would have banned for-profit dispensaries and dope  docs. It also wouldn’t have forced dispensaries on unwilling cities and  counties.

The House bill leaned more toward the Hempfest vision of medical marijuana;  it would have licensed profit-driven dispensaries, let medical enablers keep on  enabling and forbidden local communities from saying no.

Both bills envisioned large-scale commercial pot farms, which were never  going to happen.

Congress ought to amend the Controlled Substance Act to permit bona fide  therapeutic use of the cannabinoids in marijuana, which can help patients with a  narrow range of medical conditions. But the Justice Department was already  allowing such use in practice; it drew the line only after traffickers started  operating as if they were immune from the law.

To the extent that “medical marijuana” reflects actual medical practices and  controls, it’s not likely to run into trouble. But if the industry walks and  talks like a grand drug-dealing scheme, it shouldn’t be surprised to find itself  treated like one.

via : The News Tribune

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