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Colorado’s medical marijuana industry has taken a beating this week. New laws regulating the state’s marijuana dispensaries took effect on Friday, effectively closing around 85 of the shops. But the more surprising part of the story is the Obama administration’s threats against state-mandated dispensaries.
The tumult especially hit home at places like the Hatch Wellness Center in Highlands Ranch, where a solemn Carmen Hatch met patients at the door to tell them the dispensary had closed. Because of a ban on medical-marijuana businesses in Douglas County, the dispensary was unable to comply with new Colorado licensing rules.
“I wanted to be here when the patients came in to explain why we’re not open,” Hatch said. “. . . This is about the patients. It’s about people.”
Even worse for Colorado’s dispensaries is the memo that Deputy Attorney General James Cole wrote the same week as the new regulations. He asserted that people “who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana and those who knowingly facilitate such activities” are in violation of federal law, regardless of any state laws.
Anyone following the Obama administration’s policies should be shocked. Cole’s memo is a 180 degree reversal from Obama’s early-term policy. In 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder confirmed at a press conference that his Office would no longer subject individuals who were complying with state medical marijuana laws to federal drug raids and prosecutions. Fortune magazine predicted that Obama’s policy would eventually lead to something like the 21st Amendment, which repealed the Prohibition’s ban on the sale of alcohol.
Steph Sharer, executive director for Americans for Safe Access, blasted the memo.
“At the same time the federal government is recognizing the rights of people living with cancer and other debilitating diseases to use medical marijuana, it is also denying them the means to obtain it legally,” Sherer said in a statement.
The Obama administration turning coat on medical marijuana could cost him the support of many of the enthusiastic voters who elected him in 2008. With high unemployment, a sluggish economy and a climbing national debt, Obama cannot afford to further alienate his support base by changing his mind on social issues like decriminalized marijuana.