U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement that the federal government will no longer raid medical-marijuana dispensaries was cheered by California dealers as well as legislators who want to legalize and tax pot sales, reports the Wall Street Journal. Under the Bush administration, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided dispensaries across the U.S.; such seizures were common in California, which in 1996 became the first state to legalize marijuana sales to people with doctor’s prescriptions — in opposition to federal laws banning any use of the drug.
The attorney general signaled that states will be able to set their own medical-marijuana laws. “We may be seeing the end of an era,” said Rob MacCoun, a law professor who studies drug policy at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s not likely to be a priority for the Obama administration.” MacCoun said the administration’s stance may help to legitimize a “quasi-legal” marijuana culture in California. The state has as many as 200,000 medical-marijuana users, the most of the 13 states that allow such use of the drug. Holder’s announcement was praised by backers of a proposal to legalize sales of marijuana for recreational use in California. Democrat Tom Ammiano, an assemblyman from San Francisco, proposes regulating pot like alcohol, allowing its sales to people ages 21 and older. Ammiano has estimated that marijuana is a $14 billion crop in California. Taxing the drug $50 an ounce, it said, would generate more than $1 billion annually for a cash-strapped state that closed a $42 billion budget deficit last month.