California-based distributors of medical marijuana have been ordered to shut down operations by Saturday. The move is part of a federal crackdown after weeks of conflict between prosecutors and distributors.
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In late September, federal prosecutors announced the launch of an aggressive campaign against distributors and users, stating that a large number of for-profit organizations were more concerned with making money than with helping ailing individuals.
Prosecutors set a 45-day deadline for those dispensaries that were ordered to shut down. Failure to do so, they indicated, would lead to prosecution.
However, attorneys acting on behalf of distributors retaliated by filing suit, stating that such steps were "unconstitutional." Some of them even filed this month for a temporary restraining order in all four federal districts in California. They maintained the government had reversed an earlier decision to not target legal dispensaries.
"The government's irrational policy has reached a breaking point. The federal government said it will not prosecute patients, and yet they want to shut off their supply. This doesn't make sense," said Matthew Kumin, a lawyer for the pro-marijuana group, NORML, when talking about the federal government's inconsistent marijuana policies in a report in The New York Times.
The status of the medical-marijuana industry in California is tenuous. Under federal law, the substance is illegal. Under California state law, however, it may be legally used for medicinal purposes. The federal position on the substance's medicinal value is simple: Under the Controlled Substances Act, it claims marijuana has no proven medical value.
The prosecutors contend that behind the facade of medical use, the blooming marijuana industry within California has facilitated illegal sales of the substance, in large quantities.
In 2009, a memo, authored by former U.S. DeputyAttorney General David W. Ogden, asked federal prosecutors to target profit-seeking traffickers more than patients, a move interpreted as a positive sign by medical-marijuana dispensary retailers. This year, however, another memo, written by Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, changed the enforcement focus to those who cultivate or sell the substance in defiance of federal law.
Nevertheless, advocates of marijuana continue to contend the drug is used as palliative care for individuals suffering from a range of ailments, like arthritis, cancer, and chronic pain.