Thursday, October 15, 2009

Cannabis Conundrum in CA

Cannabis conundrum

Some cities banning medical marijuana providers

Andrew Edwards, Staff Writer
Posted: 10/12/2009 09:45:57 PM PDT
Updated: 10/13/2009 12:07:58 AM PDT

San Bernardino City Councilman Chas Kelley is unambiguous about his
opposition to allowing medical marijuana to be distributed in his city.

"I just don't want to be a regional magnet," said Kelley, noting that
nearby cities had prohibitions on the books before San Bernardino
followed their lead last month.

The nearly 13 years since California voters asked their government to
legalize medical marijuana has not been enough time to settle debate on
the proper use of the much loved and hated herb.

In 2009, Inland Empire- based cannabis providers continue to exist in a
kind of legal haze, where state law appears to sanction their activities
while federal law makes marijuana as illegal as heroin.

California voters cleared the path for medical marijuana in 1996 with
the passage of Proposition 215. But voters up and down the state have
also put into office politicians with very different views on medical

In San Bernardino County, the response to medical marijuana has
generally been to just say "no" - or at least "not yet." Officials in
several local cities have adopted bans or moratoriums aimed at keeping
cannabis providers out of some towns.

Other California cities have had different experiences, permitting
marijuana providers or - as is the case in Oakland - creating a new
business license tax intended to use medical marijuana as a means to
balance the city's budget.

Oakland Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan touts her city's regulatory process
as a tool to keep dispensaries safe for patients whose doctors recommend
marijuana for their ailments.

Her city's new tax, Kaplan said, was passed in a July special election
that was called to address Oakland's budget crisis. Oakland officials
expect to take in about $1 million in new revenue after the tax goes
into effect in 2010.

The political controversies that continue to surround medical marijuana,
are in Kaplan's view, foolish.

"It's a conflict that's hurting everybody, as well as being a waste of
time, money and energy," she said.

But Kaplan's views are at odds with a number of Inland Empire public
officials and California law-enforcement leaders.

A California Police Chiefs Association report on medicinal marijuana is
but one voice of skepticism. The paper argues that federal law trumps
Proposition 215 and that dispensaries, which should be deemed illegal,
are likely targets for criminals looking to score pot or cash.

"Marijuana dispensaries are commonly large money-making enterprises who
will sell marijuana to most anyone who produces a physician's written
recommendation for its medical use," the report reads. "These
recommendations can be had by paying unscrupulous physicians a fee and
claiming to have most any malady, even headaches."

Kelley, the San Bernardino councilman, referred to the report in late
September when he won his colleagues' approval to ban dispensaries from
the city.

He echoed concerns that cannabis can be prescribed for trivial problems
and that without a ban, San Bernardino could become a place where the
sight of people "puffing away on weed" becomes a new obstacle to
business development.

Redlands and Yucaipa have already banned dispensaries, and Rialto is
moving in that direction.

Other inland jurisdictions have adopted temporary bans that block
cannabis providers until more detailed policies can be crafted.

Loma Linda, Montclair and Yucca Valley are among the cities that have
moratoriums. County government also has a moratorium.

San Bernardino County extended its temporary ban in August, but some
providers who set up operations before county officials acted are still
dispensing marijuana.

These facilities include the Inland Empire Patient Group in Bloomington
and the San Bernardino Patients Association near Chino.

"As long as the rules are abided by and people say this is a medical
facility, not a head shop, we don't have any problems," said a man at
San Bernardino Patients Association, who identified himself only as
Anthony and said his family owns the facility.

Anthony said most of their patients are fighting cancer or have had
tragic accidents. Proposition 215's language recognizes marijuana as a
legitimate medicine for people suffering from diseases including AIDS,
cancer, arthritis, glaucoma or "any other illness for which marijuana
provides relief."

Medical-marijuana providers say the herb is less addictive or dangerous
than prescription drugs.

Ryan Michaels and Jan Werner of Inland Empire Patient Group want to be
treated as any other law-abiding enterprise.

Michaels discusses marijuana policy with a libertarian' s respect for
old-fashioned federalism. To him, it makes no sense for government
officials in California to bow down to federal law.

"We have states that are allowed to try their own methods of solving
their own problems," he said.

He also contends that without a legal option, patients will buy from
street dealers.

Werner and Michaels said their operation is not a dispensary but a
collective that allows marijuana patients to share crops that they

They provide marijuana on site but said they do not technically sell
marijuana. Instead, they collect donations or contributions to cover
production costs.

Werner said they also pay $8,000 to $10,000 per month in taxes to the
California Board of Equalization.

Elsewhere in Southern California, Palm Springs and Los Angeles have
tried to find their own answers to the medical- marijuana question.

Palm Springs law allows for as many as two dispensaries in the city.
Associate planner Ken Lyon said the town has received 11 applications
from prospective providers.

"Our City Council is trying to move slowly ... without opening the
floodgates, so to speak," Lyons said.

In Los Angeles County, where hundreds of dispensaries are in operation,
District Attorney Steve Cooley last week announced plans to step up
prosecutions of providers that sell marijuana at a profit.

"Any medical-marijuana dispensary that is selling over the counter for a
profit is allegedly violating the law as written," said Sandi Gibbons,
spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office in the Los Angeles Daily

"Now if there are collectives or people getting compassionate marijuana
in the proper way as outlined in the law, then that is fine. It's the
ones that are operating outside the law that are being targeted,"
Gibbons added.

Dennis Christy, assistant district attorney for San Bernardino County,
said his office seeks to follow the law regarding the use of medical
marijuana. They also plan to keep a close eye to protect restrictions
that require people distributing marijuana through collectives to either
be actual caregivers or patients whose physicians recommend marijuana,
and to avoid selling to nonmembers.

Either way, Christy said Monday that his office is not planning the
kinds of prosecutions being discussed in Los Angeles County.

"We don't have the same number as L.A. does. That's one of the big
differences, " he said.

http://www.contraco statimes. com/california/ ci_13548448

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