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California marijuana case: State law v. federal law

The clash between California law and federal law on one particular subject is creating an unstable reality for many California residents. Though medical marijuana is legal in California, the federal government refuses to recognize this particular state law. As a result, individuals are being brought up on serious marijuana-related charges even though they have followed state law to the letter.

In one recent case, a man named Matthew built a thriving medical marijuana business after consulting with attorneys in order to ensure the legality of his enterprise. He obtained necessary permits, paid taxes on his business venture and hired compliance attorneys within his staff of 75 individuals. His business operation was completely legal according to state law.

But due to the clash between California and federal law on this issue, federal investigators raided his warehouse and dispensaries. The United States Justice Department eventually indicted Matthew on marijuana cultivation charges. Matthew will likely be serving a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years as a result.

If a primary goal of the criminal justice system is to hold offenders liable for willingly violating codes of criminal conduct, than this case and cases like it inhabit some murky middle ground. Because in California their actions are not only legal but are serving a public need. At the federal level, their actions are criminal and punishable by imprisonment.

This issue is likely to become more muddled before it is eventually solved. In the meantime, it is imperative that medical marijuana cultivators understand that while their actions are completely legal according to state law, they are indeed criminal under federal statutes.

Source: New York Times, "In California, It's U.S. vs. State Over Marijuana," Adam Nagourney, Jan. 14, 2013

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