Can legalized Medical Marijuana survive in the Wild Wild West?
Medicinal Marijuana use is becoming more accepted, but as the field of legitimate medicinal shops expands, so does the shadow of illegal growers and sham prescriptions. Certain counties are even working on adding marijuana workers to local unions. However, even as acceptance grows, so does the backlash, as medical marijuana clinics are being attacked by people opposed to legalization.
Back in 2009, the Obama administration advised its US attorneys that they should bow to state law when pursuing marijuana cases in states with marijuana laws. If the operations they investigated were following state law, then they should chose not to prosecute. This goes along with a general policy of using federal resources in the most effective and efficient manner.
With that leniency, the legal marijuana business is growing; but as with any new field they still have significant issues. Since marijuana use (even medical marijuana use) is still technically illegal, there is a hodgepodge of overlapping and contradicting Federal, State, county and city laws which make the lucrative business a risky one as well.
One of the biggest obstacles to legal operations is their illegal competitors. Illegal growers don’t have as many costs as legal growers, i.e. the long and costly permit process, and so can undercut the price point of legal growers. They also operate outside regulations so don’t have to worry about proper business practices, while the legal businesses have to, and are having difficulty getting business loans from banks.
There’s also the issue of legal competition. In certain cities, local government has enacted legislation which restricts the number and placement of legitimate medical marijuana shops. In Los Angeles, CA, the city enacted a cap on the number of shops allowed to operate, but failed to enforce it for a number of years. When they finally sought to enforce it and faced a backlash of complaints from store-owners who felt they were being unfairly attacked.
As the medical marijuana business continues its efforts to legitimize itself, it must also take up the additional burden of product regulation. At this point, product regulation for quality and safety is largely at the whim of the growers and shop operators, which allows some growers to claim their product is of higher quality than it actually is. Some growers are even endangering the lives of their customers by using toxic pesticides (which the FDA would not allow any legal farmer to use) on their crops.
Whether they are legal or not, across the board marijuana growers also face threats to their own personal safety. Marijuana is a lucrative business, owing largely in part to its status as a quasi-illegal (or actually illegal) substance. This means that dispensaries, sellers, growers are all in increased danger of theft or physical assault to themselves or their employees. In San Francisco, a local seller was attacked and robbed of his product and $1000 when he went to make a delivery.
When it comes to medical marijuana, the whole industry seems to be stuck in the lucrative but dangerous mentality of the “Wild Wild West.” And while certain forces are trying to curb those influences, without a comprehensive federal policy, the rodeo show will just keep on going.