California had legalized medical marijuana close to 17 years ago and yet we still seem to see problems arising between dispensary owners and the government. To be clear, the Federal government is to blame for these shrinking numbers we are seeing from San Francisco all the way down to San Diego. The dispensaries being shut down are all businesses who have been a victim of random raids carried out by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, or better known as the DEA. Since the “Cole Memo” written by Assistant Attorney General James Cole in the summer of 2011, dispensaries have been under attack by the government with no end in sight. As StopTheDrugWar.org has put it, the Cole memo along with California’s four US Attorneys declared “open season on dispensaries.”
Due to this announcements, city officials have taken independent action on localized legislation. Los Angeles had well over 500 dispensaries prior to 2010 and that number is planned to be reduced to 135 in 2013. Another big hit taken was Anaheim which had over 143 dispensaries in 2007, now down to 11 dispensaries in 2013. Those last 11 were ordered to be shut down by the end of the year. Other major cities across California has followed suit such as San Bernardino, Riverside County, Bakersfield, Palm Springs, Thousand Palms, Santa Ana, and Stockton. These cases are not just a regulatory move to restrict the number of dispensaries open, but rather moving toward a full ban on the medical marijuana dispensary industry as a whole.
If cities were so afraid of the collectives setting up shop all around the city, they should take a page from Palm Spring’s zoning strategy allowing a certain number of collectives to operate in a certain area, thereby allowing safe access to those who need medical marijuana than to outright ban and shut down all currently operating collectives.
All this trouble marijuana users and distributors can all be traced back to a single Supreme Court decision in the case of City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center handed down in May of 2013. The Supreme Court Justices unanimously ruled that that localities could use their zoning powers to ban dispensaries in addition to regulate them. This decision gave the green light for major cities to start making moves on all collectives under its own power, and those that pose more problems to shut down are handed over to the DEA to deal with.
What does this all mean for the future of California collectives? From the time this article was written, no dispensary owner is safe from their own city nor the federal government. Although this report may seem grim, not all hope has been lost, yet. The Cannabis and Hemp Freedom Act of 2014 has published by SaveCannabis.org as an open source grassroots effort with hundreds of California advocates behind this legislation. The objective for this is for this legislation to be completed in time to make it onto the 2014 ballot. As an open source document, suggestions and edits can be provided by you, as an advocate, through their website.