The Next State In The Federal Government’s Crosshairs Is Colorado

By Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director

In recent months, the federal Justice Department has engaged in concerted efforts to crack down on the proliferation of medical cannabis related activities in states that allow for its therapeutic use under state law, including California, Montana, and Washington.

Now, according to a CBS News report, the next state on the federal government’s ‘hit list’ is Colorado — arguably the state with the most comprehensive and stringent statewide regulations governing medical cannabis activities. These regulations explicitly license state-authorized cannabis dispensaries, of which there are now some 700 operating statewide.

Nonetheless, the imprimatur of the state apparently carries little if any weight with the Obama administration at this time — despite promises (reiterated before Congress just last week by US Attorney General Eric Holder) that such prosecutions are “not a (federal) priority” and that the Justice Department only intends to target those entities who “use marijuana in a way that’s not consistent with the state statute.”

Predictably, today’s CBS special report tells a different story.

Crackdown On Colorado’s Medical Pot Business On The Horizon
via CBS News Denver

Federal authorities are planning to crack down on the medical marijuana business in Colorado on a large scale for the first time.

Warning letters will be going out to dispensaries and grow facilities near schools, CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger has learned. So far it’s not clear how soon that will happen.

Dispensaries that receive the letters will be given 45 days to shut down or move operations. If they don’t comply, they will be shut down by the U.S. attorney in Colorado.

The dispensaries who are set to be targeted are the ones that are located within 1,000 feet of schools. That measurement is being used because that distance already appears in federal law as a factor in drug crime sentencing.

The move comes after the Justice Department sent out a memo clarifying that marijuana has been and remains illegal under federal law despite what has taken place with state regulations. Colorado is one of 16 states where medical marijuana laws have been approved.

Many of the state’s dispensaries that are closer than 1,000 feet to a school have already been approved to be there under local laws. They usually have been grandfathered in.

… Robert Corry, an attorney who represents dispensaries, said medical marijuana operations are now strictly regulated under Colorado state laws.

“The federal apparatus here has better things to do,” said Corry. “My reaction would be the federal government is essentially declaring war on the voters of our state (who) passed a Constitutional amendment.”

U.S. attorneys in California recently announced in a separate medical marijuana crackdown that they would be targeting landlords who rent retail space to dispensaries, as well as dispensary owners themselves.

Does anyone really believe that this is an appropriate use of scarce federal resources? Or that these actions are in any way consistent with Obama’s public pledge to cease utilizing “Justice Department resources to try and circumvent state laws on this issue?” I didn’t think so.

If the federal government is truly concerned about the diversion of
medical marijuana or its potential abuse in states that have authorized it then it would be better served to encourage — rather than to discourage — statewide and local efforts to regulate these actions accordingly. The Obama administration’s enforcement actions in California, Colorado, and elsewhere will only result in limiting adults’ regulated, safe access to cannabis therapy. It will also cost local jobs and needed tax revenue, and likely result in hundreds — if not thousands — of unnecessary criminal prosecutions.

Legislating medical marijuana operations and prosecuting those who act in a manner that is inconsistent with state law and voters’ sentiment should be a responsibility left to the state and local officials, not the federal government. It is time for this administration to fulfill the assurances it gave to the medical cannabis community and to respect the decisions of voters and lawmakers in states that recognize its therapeutic efficacy.

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