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Is It Illegal to Sell Medical Marijuana?

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The LA County District Attorney, Steve Cooley says virtually every marijuana clinic in the county is breaking the law, and he's vowed to prosecute them.

Cooley told reporters that it's his opinion that under California law, it is legal to cultivate marijuana, but not to sell it over-the-counter or distribute it.

Background

Voters passed an initiative in 1996 that allowed patients to grow small amounts of marijuana for medicinal use. In 2004, the State Legislature passed the 2004 Medical Marijuana Program Act, which allowed patients to "collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes." It also allowed a "primary caregiver" to provide marijuana for a patient.

Most of the pot clinics (or their lawyers anyway) organized under the idea that they were primary caregivers. But last year, the state Supreme Court ruled that a primary caregiver must be actively involved in providing care for an individual, beyond simply selling or supplying them with marijuana.

So the strategy changed. Now the marijuana clinics claimed to be collectives, made up of patients requiring marijuana.

Cooley believes most of these "collectives" are simply for-profit-businesses, and not collectives at all. He says that in the main, the clinics do not enlist the members of the collective in cultivation, and that the law does not sanction over-the-counter sales of marijuana.

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The state Attorney General, Jerry Brown, issued guidelines after the 2004 law was passed. They specify that the collectives must operate as non-profits, but do allow them to collect fees from members to recoup expenses.

Should the DA's legal strategy prevail in the courts, his office will face a daunting task prosecuting all the operators of pot clinics in LA County. There are no reliable numbers on how many pot shops are operating in the county, but some estimates say more than 800 marijuana dispensaries are open in the city of LA alone.

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