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Maryland may soon join D.C. and the 16 states that have legalized the use of medical marijuana, which is respected by many Americans as a legitimate treatment. For a while, it seemed this trend would continue spreading to more states, but recent action by the federal government has left millions of patients, caregivers and activists bewildered.
On Oct. 7, the Drug Enforcement Administration issued an unexpected and shocking message to California medical marijuana dispensaries: Close your doors within 45 days or face federal prosecution for illegal drug trafficking. The announcement was directed at several dispensaries in particular, not meant as a mandate to every shop in the state, but it sent a clear message from the Feds: We're cracking down on pot and once again revving up the failed War on Drugs.
California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, and it's had its share of conflict with the federal government in the 15 years since. Because marijuana is illegal on the national level, the DEA has raided countless dispensaries under the guise of "combating drug dealing" and "protecting citizens," even though these citizens are the ones who voted to legalize medicinal cannabis in their state. While the federal government deemed each raid a success, the local population deemed the crackdown an attack on their health, jobs and freedom.
When President Barack Obama took office, he offered a false sense of hope to advocates in claiming he would not focus on indicting medical marijuana patients or shutting down dispensaries, provided they operate within state laws. It will remain unknown whether or not he actually meant this, because something besides the people's desires became more important in the medical marijuana debate: money.
Medical marijuana has the potential to make a lot of money, and neither the government nor the pharmaceutical industry failed to notice this. What many Americans don't realize is that the Feds and Big Pharma are in cahoots on the issue of medical marijuana (and the prohibition of drugs in general). Naturally, pharmaceutical companies lose customers when people discover a joint will give them the same relief as an expensive pill regimen. The companies are fighting to keep this from happening, no doubt using their wallets to encourage the federal government to crack down on dispensaries. At the same time, drug company executives see that THC — the main psychoactive compound in marijuana — does have healing properties, and they want to capitalize on that.
The DEA and the Food and Drug Administration created a THC capsule with the hopes of driving people away from natural cannabis and toward their laboratory-produced version. If things continue the way they've been going lately, the federal government will likely grant a few big drug companies the right to produce the pill using marijuana grown on a pot farm owned by — who else? — the federal government.
Meanwhile, medical marijuana dispensaries that haven't been forcefully closed will struggle to survive, because the IRS has declared dispensaries cannot deduct standard business operating costs — such as security, rent and payroll — from their tax returns. Who else smells hypocrisy and deceit?
These federal actions are in complete contrast with Obama's previous position on medical marijuana. He said the U.S. attorney's office would not prosecute cultivators and distributors abiding by state law, and yet that's exactly what's going on right now. And so the great battle between states' rights and the federal government begins once again. If the Feds are successful in crippling California's medical marijuana system, the drug's future here in Maryland and nationwide will become uncertain. Hopefully, they'll realize they have more important things to do than harming patients and communities.
Lauren Mendelsohn is a junior psychology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.