The Justice Department has shifted its policy regarding even large-scale growers of marijuana operating legally under state law. Marijuana, whether for medicinal or recreational use, is banned as a Schedule 1 drug under federal law, along with cocaine and other dangerous drugs. The federal government has had an inconsistent record in dealing with marijuana in states that have legalized it. As recently as the past year, the federal government forced the shutdown of a large collective in Oakland that was operating legally under California law. Last November, two states (Colorado and Washington) legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults. Now, the federal government says it will not interfere with the tightly regulated schemes in those two states.
But what about California? The federal government’s decision does not make it clear whether they will continue or abandon enforcement in the State of California. This is because unlike Colorado and Washington, California’s laws regulating medical marijuana leave many regulatory issues up in the air. As a result, it is not clear (yet) whether this announcement is intended to include or exclude California. Recent efforts by the California legislature to enact regulatory guidelines failed to pass and there is nothing on the horizon. This announcement by the feds may spur California into finally taking some action in order to ensure that California dispensaries are left alone by the federal government.