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Fight the Fights Worth Fighting

Unlike alcohol that has been widely accepted in our society (with the exception of Prohibition), marijuana has been restricted in one manner or another since the early 1900’s. However, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was the first federal law on the books that effectively restricted the sale and possession of the substance to those that paid a hefty excise tax. The name and the fear of the substance is thought to come from Mexican origins. Immigrants coming to the US after the Mexican Revolution brought with them the recreational use of the substance and the beginning of the US’s battle to restrict it. After 100 year roller coaster ride of creating and enforcing legislation to prevent Americans from using marijuana, 14 states including California have now legalized the drug for medical use.

While you might imagine that the biggest problem with both the state and federal governments having opposing laws is supremacy; the problem actually appears to be within the states themselves. US Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden issued a memorandum essentially stating that as long as individuals are in compliance with state laws, there is no need for the federal government to waste their precious resources battling. So now it is up to state prosecutors to determine the interpretation of “medical use” and all the other aspects of the distribution of the substance.

In the case of Jovan Jackson from San Diego, CA, whose pre-trial motions are being heard this morning, the battle is over whether the law permits the sale of marijuana. The two California laws in question: Compassionate Use Act of 1996 and Medical Marijuana Program Act of 2003 have been interpreted to allow individuals to grow and possess the drug, as well as the formation of non-profit collectives to distribute the drug to patients. These groups collect fees to cover the cost of growing and distributing the drug. And therein lies the confusion. Collecting money in exchange for goods is the very definition of a sale and the legislation does not explicitly allow the sale of marijuana.

In different counties and cities across the state, the local government agencies are taking a different approach to the law. Some are creating community gardens and Oakland even implemented a tax that is estimated to bring in almost a million dollars a year. However, San Diego County is one that has, from the beginning, fought the enforcement of this law. The San Diego’s DA’s argument for Mr. Jackson’s prosecution is that the laws were not implemented to protect those who “sell” the drug for money. And the Defense of Mr. Jackson is that collecting membership fees to assist in the cost of providing his services is what non-profit work is all about.

So the question becomes: is this a fight worth fighting?

More information on CA marijuana laws:

Opposing Views

Union Tribune

LA Times

California Proposition 215

Cannabis in CA

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