14 states legalize medical marijuana Christina Rogers / The Detroit News / 08,09,2010 But gray areas in law cloud prospects of big profits in Mich. After decades of marginalization, medical marijuana is gaining greater acceptance across the country and is becoming big business in states that have embraced it as a gentler, more natural medication for patients suffering from illnesses such as cancer, glaucoma and HIV. Fourteen states, including Michigan, have legalized the drug for medicinal use, and another dozen are considering bills to start medical marijuana programs. The nation's capital could join their ranks since the District of Columbia's council in May unanimously approved legalizing and regulating the pain-soothing, appetite-inducing drug. The Obama administration and the U.S. Department of Justice said last year they would no longer pursue cases against medical marijuana patients and suppliers who are abiding by state laws. Use of marijuana is still illegal under federal law, something the Bush administration vigorously enforced. In some states, medical marijuana has become a sizable part of the economy -- even when the industry's expansion has largely fallen in the gray area of the law. In California, marijuana is considered among the state's leading cash crops. In Colorado, medical marijuana dispensaries outnumber Starbucks locations 3 to 1. In other states, such as New Mexico and Oregon, heavier regulations have limited growth. "It hasn't become a Wal-Mart type of business," said Jeffrey Miron, a Harvard University economist who studies the marijuana trade. "But it's gone beyond a mom-and-pop sort of activity." California was the first state to legalize pot for medicinal use in 1996, spawning an industry that grew rapidly and remains among the nation's most loosely regulated. The state is home to marijuana-growing superstores, where patients can get cannabis cards that certify their eligibility to use medicinal marijuana, as well as equipment for growing the plant. A publicly traded company, Medical Marijuana Inc. based in Marina del Rey, provides consulting services. And a dispensary in Oakland, Harborside Health Center, hopes to establish the nation's first medical marijuana franchise. A dispensary is a place where state-approved growers, known as caregivers, can sell off excess pot and patients can buy it by showing their certification card. The industry's swift growth, however, has prompted many states, including Colorado, to tighten the rules. Some also have begun taxing medical marijuana sales. That has helped limit or reduce the number of medical marijuana businesses. In Los Angeles, a new law caps the number of dispensaries at 70. Colorado, which has about 1,100 dispensaries, requires facility owners to pay licensing fees and follow local zoning ordinances, said Mike Meno, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group. Some industry experts estimate the stricter rules could prompt about half of the state's dispensaries to close, Meno said. "The trend is that people are going to follow Colorado," Meno said. "They're going to realize you can't have this industry operate in the gray area. ... People need to know what's legal and what's not." In Michigan, state medical marijuana laws are still vague in many areas, such as on how patients are to obtain the drug and what growers are supposed to do with excess marijuana. In this gray area, dispensaries have opened to meet the needs of patients. Without stricter regulations, their numbers could proliferate, experts say. But that's unlikely to happen. Some local governments already are looking for ways to stiffen the rules on medical marijuana commerce. "I wouldn't be surprised," Meno said, "if Michigan joins the states that are retroactively regulating their industries." And if they just continue adding costs to the production of legal m/m there will be a black market created for m/m also,,,,the best of both worlds,legalization with criminals still making a living off of it,cops still busting people for it and industrialized prisons making more money. What more could we ask for?