The following editorial appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Thursday:
Late last year, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. affirmed the Obama administration’s long-standing policy of taking a hands-off approach to states that had legalized medical marijuana, saying federal resources wouldn’t be expended on enforcement actions as long as purveyors obeyed state law. On Tuesday, Los Angeles got a taste of the current interpretation of that policy — which is that our dispensaries are out of bounds.
Federal officials started their first major operation in L.A. by raiding dispensaries, filing court papers to seize properties rented to medical marijuana sellers and sending letters to property owners and operators of 67 dispensaries warning them to shut down within two weeks or face similar treatment. More such actions are promised.
Holder and his boss, President Obama, almost never discuss the politically poisonous topic of medical marijuana unless pressed, but in June, Holder was pressed. Under questioning from the House Judiciary Committee, he explained the reason for the recent crackdowns in California and the 16 other states that allow medicinal cannabis. Some operators, Holder said, have “come up with ways in which they are taking advantage of these state laws and going beyond that which the states have authorized.”
But in California’s case, how can he tell? The medical marijuana laws in this state are such a muddle that we’re in a haze about who’s in compliance and who isn’t. That situation — which stems directly from a failure by both the Legislature and Attorney General Kamala Harris to better define the law — has produced a fiasco in Los Angeles, where the City Council passed an ordinance to dramatically pare the number of medical marijuana dispensaries, abandoned it after a court decision indicated such limits were illegal, attempted to ban dispensaries entirely, and now must decide how to address a ballot measure to overturn the ban.
In the face of this chaos, the federal crackdown is, to some, good news — finally, definitive action is being taken to stem the uncontrollable expansion of medical marijuana franchises. But the raids are likely to drive away businesspeople who want to run clean, safe storefronts serving sick people, sending the trade further underground and into the hands of a more criminal element. That’s why we urge Holder to rein in the four California U.S. attorneys spearheading the aggressive new stance, at least until we have some clarity on what’s allowable and what isn’t.
The silence from Sacramento as this mess worsens is inexcusable. Federal law bans marijuana, and U.S. attorneys don’t have to take guidance from state officials. But if California’s attorney general issued guidelines that clearly separated legitimate distributors from lawbreakers, and the Legislature passed laws on licensing and regulating medical marijuana shops, it would probably focus their attention only on operators who are violating state laws. That is, after all, still the official Obama administration policy.