Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Long Beach Pro Marijuana Editorial
Medical Marijuana: The Bigger Picture
by John Greet
On November 10 the City Council took up the question of medical
marijuana once again. Like so many other communities in California, Long
Beach has necessarily been struggling with the minutiae of this
challenge… trying to balance the medical needs of legitimate
patients as defined by Prop 215 – as well as other legislation and
case law – with the legitimate concerns of the rest of the community
while trying to remain within the confines of other relevant laws
concerning marijuana cultivation, possession, transfer and use.
If you have the patience, and about 3 1/2 hours, I encourage our readers
to view the Council's most recent deliberations and related public
comment here, (scroll down to and click on Agenda Item 10, which
commences at time stamp: 00:40:10 on the video).
Our Council and many others, including yours truly, have been debating,
both here and elsewhere, everything from what a legitimate (in full
compliance with all applicable laws) medical marijuana operation should
be called to how many feet they should be located from schools,
residential areas and even from one another.
We've talked about the appropriate amount of medicine such
operations should keep on-hand and whether it should be grown only
on-site or can be cultivated elsewhere for use by the members of the
There are many details to consider… many individual preferences to
be balanced, one against the other. It's so very easy to get, if
you'll pardon the expression, "lost in the weeds" of this
particular public policy challenge.
In this column, however, I'd like to try to take a step or two back
and try to focus a little bit more on the bigger picture… that of an
individual's right to choose his or her own destiny and to pursue
happiness, however one might define that, while remaining, as we
certainly must, answerable and responsible to the rule of law… the
primary means by which a society asserts its collective values and
Many involved in this debate ask why anyone should care one way or
another whether anyone else chooses to use marijuana, for any reason.
They can cite for us study after study from organizations and credible
research institutions with which they agree and that play up the
blessings of marijuana while playing down its curses.
These arguments, while seemingly sterile and academic, often fall far
short of being fully convincing because other studies by other
organizations and institutions, equally credible, reach different,
though equally academic, conclusions.
The lack of definitive clinical consensus either way only serves to fuel
the fires of debate on, and from, both sides of the issue.
To a certain degree I am in full agreement with marijuana advocates.
Not, like so many of them, because I use marijuana, like it and want to
be able to do so without fear of criminal sanction but, rather, because
I believe adults should be considered to be the owners of their own
bodies and, as such, should be able to do whatever they like with them
so long as it doesn't harm or adversely effect others. For the same
reason that adults should be permitted to commit suicide if that is
truly their wish, adults should be permitted to ingest whatever
substance they like so long as they are willing to accept the full and
personal consequences of doing so and are not harming or otherwise
adversely impacting others.
This is the essence of personal liberty, after all; that a free people
in a well ordered and civil society should have both the right to make
personal choices about their own lives and the responsibility to accept
and deal with the consequences of their choices.
The adage: "Your right to swing your fist stops at someone
else's nose" is applicable here. Because: "Your right to
smoke marijuana, medical or otherwise, should stop when someone else is
harmed or adversely impacted by your doing so". Even our State's
own "Compassionate Use Act", or CUA, agrees on that score.
Unfortunately many in our society are very long on "rights" and
very short on "responsibilities" , hence our system of criminal
and civil laws, that are intended to provide incentive for some to be
responsible – to others if not to themselves – where they
otherwise cannot seem to be and to punish them when they fail of that
Marijuana advocates rightly argue that alcohol can be far more damaging
to a person or to a society, yet it is legal to produce, possess, use,
transport, buy and sell. Beyond being lawful, alcohol is a legitimate
multi-billion dollar annual industry. Many people support themselves and
their families working in the alcohol industry and many nations, states,
counties and cities rely heavily upon the taxes and fees received from
the production, sale and even the consumption of alcohol.
So why the difference?
Simple: Marijuana still exists on the federal drug "Schedule 1"
wherein all drugs reside that Congress has deemed have no legitimate
medicinal value or application. Alcohol, of course, does not exist on
"Schedule 1" nor, indeed, on any federal drug Schedule.
We can argue all day, all night and into tomorrow about why this is and
why marijuana perhaps should not be on Schedule 1 but unless and until
Congress approves transferring marijuana to any other drug schedule,
marijuana will never be able to be prescribed by physicians like many,
many other drugs that seem, at least to me, far more dangerous and prone
It's precisely for this reason that the true and best solution to
this public policy challenge lies at the federal level, rather than at
the State and local levels where places like California pass laws like
the CUA that, in truth, can only "encourage" where the Fed is
concerned; and places like Long Beach where we struggle so as we
currently are on this issue.
In summary, then: People have a right to pursue happiness, however they
might define it, so long as they are not harming or adversely affecting
others in doing so and are otherwise following the law.
In my opinion, smoking marijuana is no more potentially harmful than
drinking alcohol. Although they are different types of drugs both are,
indeed, psychoactive, if in different ways and, in any case, the true
concern is – or should be – abuse, and public impairment, not
use. So perhaps we should be concerning ourselves more with those than
with some of the minutiae previously mentioned.
However, in a well-ordered and civil society we must also endeavor,
always, to follow the law, else our laws become entirely meaningless.
When our laws prove no longer reflective of our values and principles we
must amend or abolish them. Either that or do away with laws altogether
and descend into complete and total anarchy.
But selective enforcement of our federal drug laws, as is the practice
by the Justice Department under our current Chief Executive, is I
believe, inappropriate and undermines the very laws we, as a nation,
once saw fit to enact on this matter. Turning a blind eye to these laws
on a selective basis is, in my opinion, tantamount to public policy
cowardice. I would much prefer our elected and appointed federal
officials demonstrate the courage of their alleged convictions and work
to change these federal laws so that they might be administered in all
states equally, as is right and proper.
In the meantime, however, Long Beach must navigate its way through this
maze of federal, state and case law and establish local regulations for
legitimate medical marijuana operations in our city that the majority of
the electorate can, if not be fully pleased with, at least be able to
live and work with.
I've shared my thoughts with our Council on how this might best be
done. I hope you will also!
John B. Greet is a native resident and employee of the City of Long
Beach. His views and opinions are his own and in no way reflect the
official positions or policies of the City of Long Beach or any of its
Departments, nor are they intended to. John is married with 4 children
and 2 pets; is a military veteran; a community volunteer; and an avid
reader, researcher and freshwater fisherman.
http://www.lbpost. com/john/ 7410