Thursday, June 17, 2010

‘Politics of pot’ endangering state medical marijuana laws

medicalpot Exclusive: Politics of pot endangering state medical marijuana laws

Mark Zeitlin manages Harmony House, a medical marijuana dispensary in North Hollywood, California.

His product is popular and his services — providing medicinal marijuana — are in demand. But Mark has a problem. L.A. County prosecutors want to put him out of business.

"I have AIDS patients, cancer patients, people with all sorts of illness to treat, but the government is trying to shut me down," he told Raw Story.

One of 439 facilities ordered to be shuttered last week by the L.A. County prosecutors as part of a crackdown on medical marijuana, Zeitlin said the booming business of medicinal healing through cannabis is under siege.

"Unofficially I think there are over 1,200 dispensaries in L.A. County, now I think they're saying they want it down to like 150," he said.

"It's politics," he averred. "I think someone is trying to get elected, but there are people that need us and we're being threatened with a $2500-a-day fine and imprisonment. It's not constitutional."

Zeitlin's constitutional argument may be uncertain, but he may be right about the politics of pot.

Current L.A. County Prosecutor Steve Cooley is the Republican nominee for the statewide office of attorney general.  The crackdown by his office on medicinal marijuana dispensaries came shortly after he won the Republican primary for the state's attorney general job.

On the eve of a potentially tough election race in a Democratic state, the highly publicized get-tough stance on dispensaries garnered the veteran prosecutor  local, state and even national headlines.

But just as California led the way in the battle to loosen restrictions on the use of medicinal marijuana in 1996, workers in the medicinal marijuana business like Zeitlin are worried that the backlash in Los Angeles could be trend in a politically motivated government crackdown against the medical use of the natural herb.

"Do I think it's a trend? Yeah," he said.

A comprehensive review by Raw Story of recent steps taken by state and local governments to stall, limit or ban medical marijuana shows a pattern of tightening restrictions across the country in many of the states that have passed medical marijuana laws, a shift that comes after the Obama administration pledged the Justice Department would no longer pursue medical marijuana growers.

And in some case, like Los Angeles and New Jersey, the crackdown either precedes or comes after a tight election in a politically divided state.

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