Criminal Law

Crim. Law Journal Winter/Spring 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 1

UNDERSTANDING CALIFORNIA’S MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAWS

By Alex D. Kreit

It has been almost 18 years since Californian’s passed the Compassionate Use Act, the first modern state medical marijuana law. Since then, 19 other states and the District of Columbia have enacted medical marijuana laws, and Colorado and Washington have legalized the drug entirely.

But after more than a decade and a half, two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, and two California Supreme Court decisions (with a third on the horizon), the legal status of medical marijuana in California is, somehow, more confusing than ever. In Oakland, a multi-million dollar medical marijuana dispensary—the Harborside Health Center—was the subject of a reality television series on the Discovery Channel. Meanwhile, in San Diego, local prosecutors have worked to shut down all dispensaries, arguing that California law does not permit the retail sale of medical marijuana.

For its part, the federal government’s actions have been even more bewildering. Shortly after he took office in 2009, President Barack Obama’s Justice Department issued a memo advising federal prosecutors "not [to] focus federal resources in [their] States on individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."1 By 2012, however, Rolling Stone writer Tim Dickinson was reporting "the Obama administration has quietly unleashed a multiagency crackdown on medical cannabis that goes far beyond anything undertaken by George W. Bush."2

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