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Weed Wars Image Gallery

Medicinal marijuana is a $1.7-billion industry.

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If Charles Dickens were tapped to expound on the contemporary medical marijuana industry, he might recycle his famous line from "A Tale of Two Cities": "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." The medicinal cannabis business, which straddles a tenuous line between legitimate and illegal, is booming. According to market analysis published in March 2011, 24.8 million patients in the United States were eligible to receive the herbal remedy, and the research valued the medicinal marijuana industry as a whole at $1.7 billion [source: Romero].

Bringing the underground industry into the mainstream appears to be gaining widespread favor among Americans as well. In October 2011, Gallup released a "record high" poll showing that 50 percent of respondents were in favor of legalizing the sale and use of marijuana -- medicinal or otherwise [source: Newport]. Those results represent a surge in support for cannabis legalization, which hovered around a 20 percent favorability rating in the 1990s [source: Silver].

At the same time, the federal government hasn't taken a shine to green-lighting marijuana legalization. Marijuana possession is legal in 16 states and Washington, D.C, yet a court decision in 2005 upheld the federal government's across-the-board ban on the drug [source: ProCon]. In other words, while state law might allow people to buy and consume marijuana for medicinal purposes, federal law still doesn't consider it legal. More recently, federal authorities have threatened to crackdown on stakeholders -- patients, marijuana dispensary owners and growers -- in California's medicinal cannabis industry. Those stern warnings and occasional raids, however, haven't stopped medicinal cannabis cultivation from happening.