Feds Crack Down on Medical Marijuana in California

Jars of medical marijuana are lined up on a counter in Los Angeles dispensary. Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama said the federal government shouldn't waste its time going after medical marijuana users and dispensaries operating legally under state laws. Likewise, early in President Obama's term, Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that his Justice Department had higher priorities than busting medical pot shops. So ... what's up with the feds announcing a major pot crackdown in California?

The state's four United States attorneys announced at a news conference in Sacramento today that they've dailed up efforts to curb marijuana farming and retail sales of pot under the state's 15-year-old law. Federal prosecutors have sent out letters ordering dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries to shut down in 45 days or face criminal charges, AP reports. They're not going after every shop in the state, but targeting those located close to schools, parks, sports fields and other places where there are a lot of children (which, come on, covers a lot of ground) and what U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner called "significant commercial operations."

What's going on? In an email sent out just before the news conference, Ethan Nadelmann of the pro-medical marijuana Drug Policy Alliance said, "The Obama administration’s latest moves strongly suggest that their medical marijuana policies are now being driven by over-zealous prosecutors and the anti-marijuana ideologues who dominated policymaking in past administrations. ... Instead of encouraging state and local authorities to regulate medical marijuana distribution in the interests of public safety and health, his administration seems determined to re-criminalize as much as possible."

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