Calif. AG: Some medi-pot dispensers may be illegal

August 25, 2008

Paul Elias, Associated Press

Medical marijuana dispensers that operate for-profit likely violate California law, according to guidelines that may encourage local police to join a federal crackdown against the enterprises.

State Attorney General Jerry Brown said Monday that formal cooperatives registered under the state's Food and Agricultural Code or organized as less formal "collectives" are legal under the law.

But he said anyone running a for-profit storefront dispensary not operating as either a registered cooperative or collective may be arrested and prosecuted by local authorities.

About 300 so-called "storefront" dispensaries exist in various business guises, but there is little agreement on how many of those operate for-profit.

Brown also suggested that all patients receiving doctors' recommendations to use marijuana obtain identity cards that each county is required to issue.

The nonbinding guidelines aimed to clarify California's medical marijuana law, which has caused varied and confused responses from local law enforcement but has led to an aggressive federal crackdown on the dispensaries.

Federal law makes marijuana illegal in all circumstances, and the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled the state law doesn't shield anyone from federal prosecution.

Northern California's chief federal prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello, said federal officials are targeting commercial traffickers rather than caregivers. He also said he believes 90 percent of the dispensaries run afoul of Brown's guidelines.

Brown advised that each legitimate dispensary can grow six mature or 12 immature plants per qualified patient, each of whom need a doctor's recommendation to smoke marijuana to ease health ills. Each dispensary can also have a half-pound of dried marijuana for each qualified patient.

"We think the vast majority of dispensaries in California will be in compliance," said Joe Elford, the top lawyer for the marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

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