Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley said today that all the medical marijuana dispensaries in the county are operating illegally, and that "they are going to be prosecuted."
There are hundreds of dispensaries throughout the county, including as many as 800 in the city of Los Angeles, according to the city attorney's office. They operate under a 1996 voter initiative that allowed marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes, and a subsequent state law that provided for collective cultivation.
Based on a state Supreme Court decision last year, Cooley and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich have concluded that over-the-counter sales are illegal. Most if not all of the dispensaries in the state operate on that basis.
Cooley said his office had already begun preparing to prosecute a Culver City dispensary called Organica.
Widespread criminal prosecutions could deal a sharp blow to the medical marijuana movement in California, where advocates have argued that access to the drug has helped many cancer patients and others manage pain, nausea and other health issues.
Cooley and Trutanich announced their plans after a training session for narcotics officers at the Montebello Country Club. Outside about 100 medical marijuana advocates protested, saying that not allowing over-the-counter sales threatens the distribution of a product that many sick people have come to rely on.
Barry Kramer, operator of the California Patient Alliance, a dispensary on Melrose Avenue, said, "If this is the way it goes, we'll go underground again. There will be a lot more crime."