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Possible Major Speed Bump on the Way to Legal Marijuana

In spite of a law on California books for over a decade allowing sales of pot, L.A. DA Steve Cooley suddenly announces, "The time is right to deal with this problem."
 
 
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In spite of a law on California books for over a decade which allows the sale of medical cannabis to properly licensed patients, the district attorney in Los Angeles County is preparing an all-out legal assault against the "vast majority" of dispensaries.

"Hundreds of dispensaries operate under a 1996 voter initiative that allowed medical marijuana use, and a state law that allows for collective growing of marijuana," NBC Los Angeles reported. "But based on a state Supreme Court decision last year, [LA County District Attorney Steve] Cooley has concluded that over-the-counter sales are illegal. Most if not all of the dispensaries in the state operate on that basis."

"The vast, vast, vast majority, about 100%, of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city are operating illegally, they are dealing marijuana illegally, according to our theory," Cooley said, according to The Los Angeles Times. "The time is right to deal with this problem."

That "problem" -- over the counter sales of marijuana to licensed patients -- accounted for some $18 million in tax revenue for the state last year, reported The Christian Science-Monitor, during a time when California is facing the greatest budgetary challenges in its history.

However, those with prescriptions for marijuana account for roughly 10 percent of the state's marijuana users, according to a California NORML report (PDF link) prepared for the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance.

"In a radio interview on KABC-AM (790), Cooley reiterated his plan to close down many of the 800 to 900 medical marijuana shops believed to be operating in the city of Los Angeles," noted the Contra-Costa Times.

"We will give them fair notice and, hopefully, they will see the light and voluntarily close down," Cooley reportedly said. "We are going to uphold the laws of California."

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a group which advocates the nation-wide legalization of cannabis for adults, strongly disagrees.

"In a radio interview on KABC-AM (790), Cooley reiterated his plan to close down many of the 800 to 900 medical marijuana shops believed to be operating in the city of Los Angeles," noted the Contra-Costa Times.

"Last year, the state’s attorney general issued a legal opinion that clearly stated that 'a properly organized and operated collective or cooperative that dispenses medical marijuana through a storefront may be lawful under California law,'" MPP noted in Opposing Views. "Maybe Cooley didn’t get the memo."

They continued: "If Cooley is somehow successful in eliminating L.A.'s medical marijuana facilities, the effect would be disastrous for patients forced to find their medicine in the underground market and would be a boon to the violent drug cartels that often supply that market. Voters in Los Angeles — who overwhelmingly support medical marijuana — are probably scratching their heads trying to figure out why their district attorney wants to enrich criminal drug dealers at the expense of patients."

"Cooley and other officials say that in addition to selling to minors and others who do not use the drug for medical purposes, some of the dispensaries sell marijuana laced heavily with insecticides that endanger users even as they help finance Mexican drug cartels," Contra-Costa added.

There are three voter-sponsored initiatives circulating California at the moment which seek to put complete legalization and taxation of marijuana on the state-wide ballot in 2010, according to the Orange County Register.

"If one of these initiatives passes, California would become the first state to legalize marijuana and impose a tax on it, a move proponents say could help get the state out of an unprecedented budget crisis," the paper reported.

DA Cooley's first targeted dispensary is "Organica," in Culver City, according to Mercury News.

"We have our strategy and we think we are on good legal ground," Cooley said, the LA Times noted.

Marijuana is California's most valuable cash crop, responsible for over $14 billion in annual sales, according to Time magazine. If legalized and taxed, it could produce $1.3 billion or more in revenues for the state, California tax collectors have estimated.

Read more of Stephen Webster's work at Raw Story.