Is California’s Medical Marijuana Crackdown Coming to Colorado?

December 16, 2011

A coordinated, statewide crackdown on medical marijuana might soon find its way to Colorado.

In October, the federal government launched a coordinated offensive against dispensaries in California — the country’s largest marijuana market — announcing a series of civil forfeiture lawsuits and warning dozens to shut down or face criminal charges and confiscation of property. In San Diego alone, 62 percent of dispensaries have reportedly closed since the crackdown began.

A law enforcement official told the Associated Press earlier this week that the federal government is considering a similar crackdown early next year in Colorado, a state that has some of the nation’s most comprehensive medical marijuana regulations. According to the AP,  “the official spoke on condition of anonymity and did not provide details because the matter is under review.”

The AP’s story follows Denver station KCNC-TV’s report that medical marijuana dispensaries within 1,000 feet of schools will receive warning letters to either shut down or move their operations within 45 days, or face prosecution. According to the station:

Many of the state’s dispensaries that are closer than 1,000 feet to a school have already been approved to be there under local laws. They usually have been grandfathered in.

Earlier this fall, Colorado became the first state in the nation to issue medical marijuana business licenses. Medical marijuana advocates credit the state’s comprehensive cannabis regulations with having protected businesses thus far from federal raids taking place in other states.

“Colorado has been a model for how a state should regulate medical marijuana,” Brian Vicente, a member of the medical marijuana advocacy group Sensible Colorado, told the AP. “Our system has worked and Colorado should be allowed to continue to do so.”

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who represents the state’s second district, also emphasized the state’s “strict regulatory system,” telling The Huffington Post:

There are more pressing issues facing federal law enforcement so it makes no sense for them to waste time and taxpayer money interfering with state-legal businesses that voters have approved, that are well-regulated, and that generate jobs and economic activity.

On Dec. 9, Public Policy Polling released a report showing that Coloradans favor legalizing marijuana in general (49 percent) and overwhelmingly believe it should be available for medical purposes (68 percent).  Nationwide, 50 percent of Americans say marijuana should be legalized and 70 percent favor legalizing medical marijuana to alleviate pain and suffering.

Over the past nine months, the federal government has taken a number of steps to crack down on medical marijuana around the country. At the heart of the broader crackdown is a battle between state and federal laws that will likely continue to play out.

Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws, and more than a third of all states are experimenting with some form of legalization or decriminalization.

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