The cities of Del Mar, Lemon Grove, Imperial Beach, and Solana Beach all voted down propositions that would have allowed medical marijuana dispensaries to set up shop within their city limits. Del Mar’s Prop H, had the added incentive of altering the City’s sales tax laws to give Del Mar a direct economic benefit from dispensary sales. Regardless of advertised incentives, voters in these cities decided that the burdens of regulating San Diego dispensaries outweighed any potential benefit.
The heaviest burden is that cities that allow medical marijuana dispensaries are in direct conflict with the federal government. Federally, marijuana is classified as a “Schedule 1” controlled substance, the same as heroin. In 1996, California passed the Compassionate Use Act (Prop 215) that made California the first state to allow the use of medical marijuana.
As quickly as medical marijuana dispensaries opened the DEA and other federal enforcement agencies worked to close them down. Medical marijuana dispensaries in California are always under the threat of criminal raids, prosecutions, penalties, fines, and property seizures from the federal government
Federal officials announced in 2009, that raiding medical marijuana dispensaries was no longer a priority, but the raids and the possibility of criminal prosecution continues. While California was a bellwether on medical marijuana, it has failed to take the additional step against marijuana prohibition by legalizing its recreational use.
The fight to end the prohibition of marijuana made significant ground nationally on election night, as Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Colorado, the more ambitious of the two, amended its constitution to legalize marijuana. Amendment 64 not only allows people over the age of twenty-one to possess and consume limited amounts of marijuana, but it also allows for licensed cultivation facilities, product manufacturing facilities, retail stores, and the processing and sale of industrial hemp. Likewise Washington’s Initiative 502 removes criminal penalties for the cultivation, possession, and consumption of marijuana and essentially regulates it like alcohol.
Colorado and Washington are now poised for a showdown with the federal courts that will have ramifications nationwide. Ultimately this fight is headed to the Supreme Court. In the past, the Supreme Court has ruled that federal officials have the authority to enforce federal law that conflicts with state law through the commerce clause. But, if Colorado and Washington are allowed time to test their legalization measures, and if they prove to be successful, it could lead to a change in how federal law treats marijuana. Depending on how the federal government responds, the war on drugs (at least the battle for marijuana) could either be coming to an end or forever strengthened.
In other states, medical marijuana measures passed in Massachusetts but failed in Arkansas. In Oregon, a legalization measure similar to those in Colorado and Washington failed to pass.