California has long been recognized as a national leader when it comes to medical marijuana policy. Qualifying Californians have been allowed to use medical marijuana since voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996. Since then, the state has taken slow but steady steps toward creating a welcoming environment for medical marijuana patients.
Not everyone has been pleased with this progress, however. Many have criticized California’s program, arguing that it is insufficiently strict. They worry that it is too easy to get authorization, and that California’s medical marijuana program is bordering on all-out legalization. Their fears have been bolstered by storefront marijuana dispensaries that openly invite potential customers to come inside for a smoke.
In response to this concern, many California municipalities have been cracking down on dispensaries. In July, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to ban storefront marijuana dispensaries. It plans to use some of the funds it has generated from marijuana taxes to enforce the closures.
As an alternative to retail dispensaries, Los Angeles plans to allow medical marijuana users to grow their own marijuana and share it in small groups. Opponents of this plan say that it is impractical and that it fails to account for the expertise and financial resources necessary to successfully grow medical-grade marijuana.
Federal charges for medical marijuana
Of course, dispensary closures aren’t the only problems that medical marijuana users and suppliers are facing. Despite state protections, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. As such, if federal authorities decide to take action, anyone engaged in the medical marijuana trade could face serious criminal charges.
The penalties for these crimes can be quite severe. Under federal law, the sale of any amount of marijuana less than 50 kilograms is a felony that is punishable by up to five years in prison. The sale of anything between 50 and 99 kilograms can bring up to 20 years in federal prison. The penalties for cultivation are similar, with each plant equating to approximately one kilogram of marijuana. Even possession of a small amount of marijuana can result in up to a year in jail on a first offense.
Some federal lawmakers have been working on legislation that aims to provide a solution to this problem. It would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to provide immunity to individuals who are acting in compliance with state marijuana laws. It would apply both to medical marijuana and to full-scale legalization schemes like those recently adopted in Colorado and Washington.
At present, it does not appear that the legislation will become law any time soon. As such, it is important for anyone who is engaged in the California medical marijuana industry to seek the guidance of an experienced medical marijuana attorney. The attorney can help maintain compliance with state law and can defend against any federal charges that might arise.