California Crackdown Aimed at For-Profit Dispensaries, U.S. Attorney Says

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The U.S. government has taken a fair share of flak recently for its war on medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations in California. In the past few weeks, federal officials have conducted numerous raids and threatened to prosecute landlords that rent space to cannabis businesses. They’ve also talked about the possibility of targeting newspapers and other media outlets that run marijuana-related ads.

Supporters of medical pot – as well as some state lawmakers – have lashed out at the Obama administration, saying its recent actions amount to a 180 on medical marijuana and trample the will of the people, who voted to legalize medical pot in California years ago.

But a U.S. attorney behind the government’s get-tough stance defended the crackdown in an interview with NBC L.A. over the weekend, saying that the California’s medical marijuana industry is essentially out of control and that there’s a proliferation of for-profit pot shops. The state’s current laws stipulate that dispensaries must be nonprofit entities.

“What we’ve seen, unfortunately, is the Compassionate Use Act has really turned into the Commercial Use Act,” Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney for California’s central district, told the network, adding that some medical marijuana dispensaries also are selling mass amounts of weed to individuals in other states.

It’s understandable that the government wants to come down hard on dispensaries and marijuana businesses that are clearly violating state laws. A few of the recent raids, however, have involved pot shops that appear to be adhering to the law and are well received in the local community.

Still, Birotte’s comments are encouraging for the industry because they help clarify – albeit only slightly – the government’s intent. The big fear has been that the recent actions are just the start of something much bigger against the entire medical marijuana industry, with some observers even saying that the whole sector will go up in smoke. But if the Obama administration is simply looking to eliminate the sketchy players, then the rest of the industry can breathe a little easier, as least for now.