Medical pot rules appear a little hazy

Don’t accuse proponents of medical marijuana of being high if they seem confused about the state of regulations governing their industry. Anyone could get a little unsteady on the regulatory roller coaster ride regarding medical marijuana.

For example, there’s a renewed question of what federal authorities will do.

Combined with a state court decision, the Obama administration helped start the frenzy of medical marijuana dispensaries springing up in Colorado two years ago. That’s when a deputy attorney general announced that federal law enforcement officials shouldn’t waste resources arresting and prosecuting people who are in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state laws that legalized marijuana for medical purposes.

But late last week, according to The Denver Post, another deputy attorney general said federal officials may prosecute anyone who is “in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana and those who knowingly facilitate such activities.”

Officials with the Department of Justice said the two announcements aren’t contradictory. The first one applied to individuals who legitimately use medical marijuana for their personal ailments. But the second one applies to the retail growing and sales operations that have developed to serve those individuals.

That’s a reasonable distinction. There were, after all, no medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Colorado when the first announcement from the deputy attorney general was made.

It would have been helpful, however, if the Justice Department hadn’t waited two years before issuing the second statement. Perhaps then we wouldn’t have had the dispensary boom, followed by two straight legislative sessions in which Colorado lawmakers tried to craft reasonable laws to govern the businesses.

Speaking of legislative efforts, the latest state laws regulating medical marijuana — both dispensaries and caregivers — took effect Friday. But they could be put on hold if a judge accepts arguments made by a group of patients and caregivers in a lawsuit filed last Thursday and issues an injunction to block implementation of the laws.

Among other things, the plaintiffs claim that the laws may force medical marijuana users to obtain their pot from dispensaries rather than caregivers who serve only small numbers of patients.

The effect of the lawsuit, however, is to leave both dispensary operators and caregivers again wondering what rules they need to follow.

We stated last week our support for the additional regulations that took effect July 1. But we certainly can sympathize with those who have invested in dispensaries, growing operations or other purportedly legal activities related to medical marijuana.

Whether you sell widgets, drill for oil and gas or provide services to those who use medical marijuana under a state constitutional amendment that legalized such use, it’s difficult to operate a business when there is no regulatory consistency.


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