Thursday, March 11, 2010

Medical marijuana conundrum

I’m not sure yet what to make of the arrest of an owner-operator
of a medical marijuana facility called 215 Agenda in Lake Forest, and
two others. There certainly are operators of such facilities who operate
outside the law, and the state law and guidelines issued by Attorney
Gen. Jerry Brown, though they were developed in cooperation with patient
advocates, have some ambiguities and shortcomings, IMO. On the other
hand, given that it issued complaints against 35 facilities last year
and has made it clear it wants to shut down all such operations in the
city, it appears that Lake Forest is not all that interested in a
good-faith effort to allow California’s medical marijuana law to
operate without unnecessary hindrance. A particular example of bad faith
is the city attorney’s invocation of federal law. The city is a
subdivision of the state and its officials’ job is to uphold
state law, not federal law.

One thing is clear. If Mark Moen, 50, described as the owner, is
convicted on all charges he could face 39 years in state prison. At a
time of prison overcrowding and state budget crisis that would be a
gross misuse of taxpayers’ money. DAs routinely overcharge when
filing charges, which gives them the option of whittling them down or
plea-bargaining as a trial approaches, but that is ridiculous. He is
also being held on $500,000 bail and must prove bail money comes from a
legal source â€" the money is presumed guilty until proven
innocent, the reverse of proper legal procedure â€" before it can
be used to bail him out.

Part of the state law, SB 420, that tried (in good faith, I think) to
systematize and regularize Prop. 215, passed by voters in 1996, has
already been struck down by the state Supreme Court. The guidelines on
quantities were deemed a legislative amendment to a proposition passed
by voters, and under the state constitution a voter-passed proposition
can only be amended by voters in a subsequent proposition. I
wouldn’t be surprised if another provision in SB 240 and the AG
guidelines â€" that dispensaries or facilities must be non-profit
cooperatives â€" were invalidated eventually. They arise from a
widely held superstition that non-profit is somehow more noble and moral
than profit-making. In a reasonably free economy profit comes from
serving and satisfying customers. In non-profits where revenues exceed
expenses fairly substantially, it generally goes to high salaries rather
than being plowed back into the mission. Is that more noble or moral
than owners who took risks reaping rewards? Are ordinary pharmacies
required to be non-profit institutions?Moen is also facing 38
money-laundering charges. In a decent society there would be no such
crime as money-laundering, and such charges are more often piling-on by
prosecutors than evidence of actual wrongdoing. In addition, the charge
that they didn’t require purchasers to participate in collective
activities or grow marijuana for others rests on what I think is a
pretty shaky interpretation of the relevant laws and guidelines.

In the end, these kinds of prosecutions and campaigns against medical
marijuana providers are likely to build support for the proposition that
will be on the November ballot to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana
for any use by adults in California. The voters tried to carve out an
exception to the marijuana laws for bona fide patients, but official
foot-dragging and bad-faith harassment has made that much more difficult
than it had to be. An increasing number of people are ready to throw up
their hands in the face of such official intransigence and say just
legalize the stuff. Whether it will be a majority of Californians by
November â€" the campaign on either side hasn’t gotten
underway yet and it could get nasty and packed with lies and appeals to
prejudice â€" I’m not yet prepared to predict.

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