The Drug War Loses More Steam as Medical Marijuana Goes on Sale in Illinois

CHICAGO (Nov. 16, 2015) – Thousands of people are now able to buy marijuana for medical purposes, legally, under state law in Illinois. This represents another step toward thwarting the federal ban on cannabis in practice in the Land of Lincoln.

Illinois legalized marijuana for medical use more than a two years ago, but it wasn’t until Nov. 9 that people could purchase it under state law. Per ABC Chicago:

"More than 3,000 patients with Illinois-issued ID cards will be able to buy medical marijuana legally for the first time Monday, according to the state official overseeing the pilot program.

Eight licensed dispensaries are authorized to start selling cannabis on that day, program director Joseph Wright told The Associated Press. The number will grow to a dozen dispensaries by the end of the month and up to 25 by the end of the year, Wright said.

More than two years after Illinois enacted its medical cannabis law, growers on Friday began shipping their products to dispensaries around the state, following instructions sent to them by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. A statewide digital tracking system has been launched to prevent any diversion of marijuana to the black market."

Of course, people have been growing, buying and selling the plant under the radar for decades now. But operators knew state authorities could try to stop them down at any time. Now these businesses can emerge from the shadows.

Eight dispensaries or 25, the federal government prohibits these new operations in Illinois, and elsewhere. In fact, the feds maintain a blanket ban on marijuana for any purpose. But the beginning of these sales further roots cannabis in the state and represents another big step toward blocking that federal ban in effect.

While the feds can still try to enforce their ban in Illinois, arresting a cancer patient simply trying to find relief from pain doesn’t make for very good PR. More importantly, the number of states legalizing marijuana for medical use, or for recreational use by the general public has made it increasingly difficult for the DEA to enforce prohibition. The federal government simply lacks the resources to impose its will on more than half the country.

Statistics from Americans for Safe Access (ASA) suggest that costs-per-raid and costs-per-investigation far exceed the yearly DEA budget. Figures indicate It would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution.

The feds need state and local cooperation to enforce marijuana prohibition. That is quickly evaporating because of actions in states like Illinois, subverting the federal ban in practice.

The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats.

Mike Maharrey contributed to this report.