These are dark days for two medical marijuana pioneers who helped establish and bring credibility to the MMJ industry.
Lynette Shaw, who opened the nation’s first licensed medical marijuana dispensary in California more than a decade ago, has filed for personal bankruptcy after receiving a bill from the IRS for back taxes and penalties tied to her center. It marks another devastating development for Shaw, who was forced to close her dispensary – the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana – last year after the federal government put pressure on her landlord.
That same pressure is threatening another well-known MMJ entrepreneur: Steve DeAngelo, who runs Oakland-based Harborside Health Center. Last week, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag moved to shut down Harborside, which ranks as one of the nation’s largest and most successful dispensaries. Haag also was behind the effort to close the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana. DeAngelo and his team are fighting to keep the center open, but they face difficult odds given Haag’s previous success with this strategy.
These two developments are worrisome for the medical marijuana industry, as they could deter potential entrepreneurs from getting involved in the business. And, ultimately, they could stifle growth. The move against Harborside is particularly disturbing on several fronts. If the center is forced to close, the government would effectively wipe out what many see as the quintessential dispensary. It also shows that no one is safe, even those who strive for legitimacy and try to keep everything on the up-and-up. Lastly, it could be a significant blow to California’s ailing MMJ industry, which is already on the ropes.
On a brighter note, the ongoing turmoil in California has done little to stop medical cannabis advocates in other states. In Arkansas, MMJ supporters submitted signatures to get a measure on the fall ballot that would legalize medical marijuana. Officials must now validate those signatures. Supporters turned in roughly 4,500 more signatures than needed. But don’t hold your breath: That might not be a big enough buffer given that many are often thrown out. In some other states that successfully passed MMJ laws, supporters needed tens of thousands of extra signatures.
In Massachusetts, state officials announced last week that an MMJ measure has qualified for the November ballot. Support for medical marijuana runs strong in New England, so this measure stands a good chance of passing. That would open up new avenues for medical marijuana on the East Coast and possibly help persuade New York to follow a similar path next year.
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