Federal Judge: Crackdown on California Marijuana Dispensaries Justified

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Efforts by California’s medical pot industry to prevent federal and state officials from closing dispensaries have fallen short.

A U.S. District Court judge in Oakland rejected a motion asking for a temporary halt to the Obama administration’s crackdown on medical cannabis in the state, saying that the actions are justified because the federal government still considers pot an illegal substance.

The ruling is another setback for California’s reeling medical cannabis community, which has been hammered by federal, state and local efforts to rein in the industry. U.S. district attorneys in the state have sent warning letters to landlords renting space to MMJ businesses, raided dispensaries and grow operations, and promised to step up overall enforcement going forward. Numerous communities have enacted bans and moratoriums on new operations, while government officials in some areas – including Los Angeles – are considering similar measures.

In light of the federal actions, pot groups filed lawsuits to halt the crackdown, arguing that forcing state-compliant pot shops to close is unconstitutional and will harm patients who need the drug to ease pain. They also claimed that the government backtracked on its MMJ policies, citing a 2009 memo that essentially cleared the way for the medical marijuana industry.

The judge’s decision further clouds the legal status of medical pot in states that approve the use and sale of the drug. The industry has been operating under the assumption that businesses won’t be prosecuted as long as they are following state MMJ laws. The federal government’s recent action in California, however, seems to signal otherwise.