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Sunday 15th September 2019

Legal battle over medical marijuana

9th October 2012

Authorities in Los Angeles have issued orders to close 71 dispensaries of medical marijuana, as part of a state-wide crackdown on the industry aimed at preventing marijuana use for non-medical purposes.


The move will only affect a fraction of the city's dispensaries, for which no official figures exist, and which may number more than 1,000.

However, most people agree the storefront dispensaries have become more numerous in Los Angeles than branches of Starbucks.

Community groups in middle-class neighbourhoods have been campaigning against dispensaries in their neighbourhoods, many of which appeared to be still operating as the deadline approached.

California first legalised medical marijuana in 1996, so that the drug could be prescribed for people suffering from a number of conditions, including cancer patients and others suffering chronic pain.

However, federal lawyers have closed down at least 600 of the dispensaries in a crackdown on illegal use of the system that began a year ago.

State law requires those who run the dispensaries to be nonprofit primary caregivers to their patients and to distribute marijuana strictly for medical purposes. However, marijuana possession is illegal for any purpose at federal level.

US attorney André Birotte Jr. said the closures were only the beginning of the federal campaign to clean up the medical marijuana industry in Los Angeles.

Three dispensaries have already been targeted by asset forfeiture lawsuits, while 68 others have received letters warning of potential criminal charges.

Supporters of the crackdown say that recreational users of cannabis have been taking advantage of vague wording in state laws governing the use of the drug for medical purposes.

Some dispensaries send sales agents onto the streets to offer cut-price evaluations for conditions that could lead to a prescription for marijuana.

Marijuana dispensaries have already been banned in nearly 180 California cities, but many have fought back with lawsuits challenging the ban, some of which have reached the state's Supreme Court.

However, groups promoting access to marijuana for medical purposes say many municipalities have already caved in under federal pressure.

Oakland and San Francisco have to date continued to defend the right to medical access to marijuana, and continued to issue permits to new dispensaries.

Storefront dispensaries did not begin to appear across California in 2004, sparking concern in some neighbourhoods that the wrong message was being sent.

Pro-access groups so far have successfully campaigned to have blanket bans on dispensaries rescinded in Los Angeles, where politicians say they cannot fight off an increasingly well-organised medical marijuana lobby.

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