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A U.S. district judge in Los Angeles has declared illegal a California law that imposed a state-wide cap on medical marijuana sales.
Attorney General Jerry Brown’s administration filed a lawsuit, which it has appealed, seeking a stay of the Dec. 4 ruling. As a result, the rule that capped California’s medical sales at 50 dispensaries and restricted them to three-patient facilities will remain in effect, the attorney general said in the lawsuit.
That could put California on track to become the first state in the nation, and perhaps the only state, to completely shut down dispensaries.
The plaintiffs, along with a coalition of advocacy groups, filed the suit last month and asked U.S. District Judge George Wu to halt the California law until its appeal is heard. The plaintiffs contend the provision of the law — which passed in 2014 and was modeled on a Colorado-style medical marijuana program — violates patients’ constitutional rights in violation of the U.S. Constitution.
Brown’s Office of the Attorney General does not oppose the lawsuit. It would have been a very easy legal argument for him, and he has argued before that medical marijuana is safer than alcohol, and so it’s OK, in his view, to regulate it. But California’s system of licensing medical marijuana dispensaries and keeping them apart may not be the most legal way to do that.
It’s true that there are serious criminal penalties for selling marijuana — up to five years in prison and a $2,250 fine for the first offense, and up to six years for every subsequent offense. But federal law allows the federal government to impose a federal prohibition on marijuana possession, while 18 states and the nation’s capital have legalized the drug.
The U.S. Department of Justice is also expected to announce a new, national policy on medical marijuana in the coming months, though the exact implications are unclear.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, and federal prosecutors have been actively enforcing those laws. In July 2011, in a rare move, the Drug Enforcement Administration seized and destroyed 2,400 pounds of marijuana in Washington state. In April, the department made a similar threat in Colorado against a company that was growing medical pot.
A spokesperson for Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Fox News that the Obama administration is “reviewing the legality of recreational marijuana, which is illegal under federal law, but does not intend to prioritize enforcement against such states.”