Local marijuana advocates optimistic after White House announcement

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Local marijuana advocates are hopeful that cannabis-related regulation will become less stringent in the wake of a federal government memo released last week.

After the Obama administration’s announcement Thursday that it would reduce federal intervention in state regulation of the marijuana industry, cannabis supporters believe medical dispensaries may face fewer punitive measures from the federal government and that recreational marijuana eventually could be legalized.

“(The memo) is a welcome turnaround,” said Councilmember Kriss Worthington. “Recognizing city and state laws and stopping the criminalization (of marijuana sale) is super important.”

Thursday’s memo is the federal government’s first announcement regarding marijuana regulation since voters in Colorado and Washington legalized personal use in 2012.

“I’m very hopeful that lives are going to be saved and people are no longer going to be threatened with jail time for their choice in medicine,” said Lanette Davies, director of Crusaders for Patients’ Rights, an advocacy group for medical marijuana patients.

City Councilmembers Worthington and Darryl Moore, who support medical marijuana, said they are optimistic about the impact the memo will have on Berkeley Patients Group and Harborside Health Center, two local cannabis dispensaries fighting federal government lawsuits.

The announcement may also lead to Berkeley City Council’s approval of a fourth registered dispensary, Moore said.

Given that no federal laws have been changed, however, immediate implications of the memo are uncertain, said Kris Hermes, media specialist for Americans for Safe Access, a cannabis-advocacy group. On Friday, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District told the East Bay Express that it “(does) not expect a significant change” in the way it handles marijuana-related cases.

According to David Goldman, a local spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, California cannabis-regulation laws must be stricter and more clearly defined for federal government intervention to decrease.

“(People) don’t understand the science of medical marijuana — that people need it,” Goldman said. “They think it’s a sham.”

Earlier this year, the California Legislature attempted to pass two bills that would have further regulated cannabis sale and use. In light of Thursday’s memo, the Legislature may resurrect either of these failed bills, Hermes said.

In 2010, California voters failed to pass Proposition 19, which would have allowed people 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana. The federal government’s memo could pave the way for a new initiative to get passed, said Allen St. Pierre, executive director at NORML, a recreational-marijuana advocacy group that supported the proposition.

“2016 is the year to watch for with these initiatives,” St. Pierre said. “Marijuana will be as much talked about on the ballot as the presidential candidates.”

Claire Chiara covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected].