Two years ago, marijuana was on the upswing in California. Medical marijuana proliferated from Cresent City to Imperial Beach. And voters appeared on the cusp of approving the nation’s most sweeping proposal ever to legalize pot for casual use.
Now, nine months after federal prosecutors began a massive crackdown on storefronts and growers, the prospects have dimmed considerably for advocates pressing for legitimate use of the drug either for medical comfort or as a business — and as a tax generator.
Proponents of five separate statewide initiatives that would have done everything from legalize to regulate and tax marijuana failed to collect enough signatures to qualify for November’s ballot. And despite urgent calls for regulations from the state attorney general and sympathetic lawmakers, key pieces of legislation have been shelved, leaving California’s marijuana industry in legal limbo.
A combination of factors has contributed to the uncertainty: from neighborhood concerns over storefront collectives to contentions they’re a cover for illicit drug dealing to diminished resources and waning political organizing among advocates in the face of the crackdown.
There also remains a glut of high-profile cases moving through the courts and persistent splintering within the ranks of advocates statewide.
The landscape has lacked clarity since voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996, the first-in-the-nation ballot initiative to allow those with recommendations from state-licensed physicians to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use. The drug continues to be illegal under federal law.
Alex Kreit, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, said he suspected the Proposition 19 legalization measure, which received 46 percent of the vote in 2010, contributed to some of the medical marijuana backlash by the federal government. What is needed is a statewide regulatory system, he said.
“Some aspects of medical marijuana policy, like zoning, are probably best suited to local control,” he said. “But a wide range of issues — particularly regulations about labeling, training, quality of medicine, etc. — really should be overseen at the state level.”
In the city of San Diego, medical marijuana activists failed to qualify a regulate-and-tax initiative for the general election ballot. Two groups of advocates have now set their sights on Encinitas, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Lemon Grove, La Mesa and Imperial Beach.
Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, said it was egregious that state lawmakers have waited so long to act. He blamed collective directors who don’t believe it’s in their financial interests to have a regulated industry along with law enforcement groups that oppose virtually every effort to regulate storefronts and refuse to offer alternatives.
“I think it’s just outrageous that the people who have responsibility for enforcing laws and protecting us from criminals continue to advocate for a completely unregulated situation that totally leaves it open to gangs and cartels and criminals,” said DeAngelo, who runs the state’s largest dispensary.
He also took aim at the wisdom of running Proposition 19 in 2010, though he supported its passage once it qualified for the ballot.
“Had we not made that strategic blunder I think that the momentum would be on our side instead of the other side today,” he said.
Critics of this year’s proposals argued they amounted to permission slips for unfettered operation of medical marijuana storefronts and outright recreational use. The inflexibility of many dispensaries to compromise turned the debate away from the medical efficacy of marijuana to questions of neighborhood public safety and qualify of life, said John Lovell, a lobbyist for state police chiefs and narcotics officers.
“I think the burden is on medical marijuana proponents, if they are serious about ‘medical’ as opposed to ‘marijuana,’ to develop something that is truly medical in nature and not a subterfuge for anybody who wants to get a medical marijuana card and get stoned,” Lovell said.
In December, Attorney General Kamala Harris sent letters to leaders of both legislative chambers urging that “state law itself needs to be reformed, simplified and improved to better explain to law enforcement and patients alike how, when and where individuals may cultivate and obtain physician-recommended marijuana.”
When it became clear the proposed ballot initiatives would not qualify, advocates shifted their attention to Sacramento, specifically to bills by Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, both San Francisco Democrats.
Senate Bill 1182, which was pulled from the floor of the upper chamber, sought to clarify the legality of collectives and their right to receive compensation, provided they were organized and operated in compliance with the Guidelines For the Security and Non-Diversion of Marijuana Grown For Medical Use issued by then-Attorney General Jerry Brown in 2008.
Assembly Bill 2312 narrowly passed the Assembly but was held by the Senate Committee on Business, Professions, and Economic Development at Ammiano’s request. It would have established an appointed Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement to oversee marijuana businesses and allowed local governments to tax cannabis.
He said the bill represented his best effort to regulate an industry that has existed in a patchwork of regulations and laws for the past 15 years, adding that additional time for study could produce a better law.
Bishop Ron Allen, president and chief executive of the International Faith Based Coalition, said the bill would have had the effect of airdropping marijuana dispensaries into poorer communities. “How can the youth say no when the adults around them are saying yes?” he said.
While many activists were pleased with the legislative progress, others complained about amendments to Ammiano’s bill that lifted a cap on taxes local governments could charge and allowed city councils or boards of supervisors to pass bans on their own, which officials have already done in nearly 200 jurisdictions.
“Unfortunately a lot of the debate on our side has been about demanding our dream law,” said Don Duncan, a Los Angeles resident who is state director of Americans for Safe Access. “I think one of the things we have to do now is think about what can we work with.”
Meanwhile, the legality of local bans is in question. On Monday, a state appellate court held that Los Angeles County’s “complete ban” on medical marijuana conflicts with, and thus is preempted by, state medical marijuana laws. The decision comes after the California Supreme Court granted review of other state appeals court rulings relating to dispensaries in Riverside and Long Beach.
Duncan said he hoped the federal government would not use the legal uncertainty and legislative setbacks as a cue to expand its crackdown.
Since October, the four U.S. attorneys in California have mailed hundreds of letters to landlords urging them to shut down dispensaries and grows. Three of the districts, including the San Diego region, received over 90 percent compliance, filed fewer than 20 asset forfeiture complaints and settled a handful of the cases.
Aides for the federal prosecutors reported closing down more than 500 dispensaries, including 217 in San Diego and Imperial counties. Officials in the northern district, home to raids on some of the most well-known and politically connected dispensaries, declined to provide figures.
DeAngelo, who is locked in his own legal battle with the Internal Revenue Service, said the list of raids “reads like an honor role of the very best people — the most legitimate and politically active.”
Among those was Oaksterdam University, the marijuana training school founded by Richard Lee, who poured more than $1 million into Proposition 19. Lee’s home, dispensary and a museum connected with the Oakland school were also raided.
Dale Sky Jones, executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University, said the school is up and running and the museum is being relocated. She said Lee, who is now retired, didn’t have the luxury of waiting until this year to fund an initiative campaign.
“Proposition 19 brought a lot of pressure on both localities and the legislature to doing something,” she said. “In fact, many localities were looking to regulate when the federal government threw their ice bath on the industry.
Its other impacts have perhaps been more far-reaching, Jones said.
“It was the first opportunity for folks to sit around at the dinner table and have a conversation about marijuana that didn’t start with, ‘Junior, what the hell were you thinking?’” she said. “It was a way to talk about marijuana policy that was not personal.”
Observes are now turning their attention to legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington. It remains to be seen whether local activists will marshal the political forces needed to bring closure, said Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Said St. Pierre: “In many ways we remain divided between medical folks who don’t want legalization and others who believe it’s the road to legitimacy.”
News Hawk- TruthSeekr420 420 MAGAZINE
Author: Christopher Cadelago
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