People in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon will soon vote on initiatives that would allow adults 21 and over to buy marijuana at government-regulated shops.
They focus on the evils of prohibition and the economic benefits to the states and cities of pot tax revenues. There is no pretense of wanting to make pot available solely to help people suffering from serious medical conditions.
California' medicinal marijuana law was supposed to limit pot use to people with medical conditions. Many people with serious illnesses are able to get marijuana at dispensaries without having to purchase the drug illegally from a dealer and face state prosecution. But the law also allows any adult to purchase pot at a medical marijuana dispensary. So long as he or she has a medical marijuana ID -- which doctors and osteopaths dole out like gum drops for a price. Recreational drug users all over the state have taken advantage of the law which has helped land dispensaries in hot water with the feds.
California's prosecutors have shut down more than 600 statewide since they launched an aggressive campaign in October.
In July, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag came gunning for Harborside Health Center. Harborside of course is the cash-cow pot dispensary with branches in Oakland and San Jose and more than $20 million in annual sales. It was featured on the TV reality show "Weed Wars." Haag's office filed a civil forfeiture claim to seize the property that Harborside leases in an effort to shut it down.
On Wednesday, there was a new wrinkle in the Oakland marijuana wars.
City Attorney Barbara Parker announced that Oakland had filed a suit against the federal government to block the forfeiture claim. Oakland was none too pleased at the prospect of losing more than $1 million in sales tax revenues from Harborside.
According to the city's complaint, the property on Embarcadero "is vital to the safe and affordable distribution of medical cannabis to people suffering from chronic and acute pain, life threatening and severe illnesses, diseases and injuries."
Oakland officials allege that the federal government also exceeded a five-year statute of limitations. That city officials built a whole regulatory framework around medical marijuana based upon assurances from federal officials that so long as dispensaries stayed within the confines of state law, they would be allowed to operate.
Oakland became the first city I'm aware of to sue the federal government on behalf of a pot dispensary.
Marijuana advocates are over the moon. But others are incensed that Oakland officials are going to court to protect a marijuana dispensary.
Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, one of the top law firms in the state, is taking the case pro bono.
David Levine, a professor of law at UC Hastings and expert in civil procedure, questions whether the city of Oakland even has standings to file this particular legal action. He called it "an enormous long shot."
Oakland officials have no way of knowing whether a dispensary -- Harborside or any other -- is complying with state law. How many patients have legitimate medical conditions versus all the people who just want to get high.
There is no regulation or oversight of the doctors writing prescriptions or the people getting them.
Californians could have dropped the "medicinal" facade in 2010 by passing Prop. 19, the marijuana legalization measure. But it failed.
It appears that voters were happy to let the medical marijuana law operate as de-facto legalization but were unwilling to come right out and support legalization.
"It seems that California has settled on this strange ambiguous thing where it's not legal or illegal," says Robert MacCoun, a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley who has studied U.S. and international drug laws.
Yet there is nothing ambiguous about possession and sale of marijuana under federal law.
Federal prosecutors assert Harborside's sales volume suggests illegal sales which would violate state and federal laws. The operators insist they have not broken any laws.
Harborside has 100,000 people listed as patients.
Multiply that out by all the people buying marijuana from thousands of medical marijuana dispensaries across California.
That's a whole lot of sick people. Or maybe not.