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State Still Hashing Out Medical Marijuana Rules

Jim Finnel

Fallen Cannabis Warrior & Ex News Moderator
Highly publicized raids last month on three medical marijuana outlets in downtown San Mateo were the latest example of the continuing clash between state and federal officials over medicinal cannabis.

And that clash is reverberating through communities across the state.

More than a decade after Californians voted to legalize medical marijuana, an explosion of dispensaries and patients has cities and counties scrambling to regulate the operations.

In San Mateo County, the Aug. 29 raids spurred county officials to begin drafting an ordinance to regulate the clinics.

That process will likely take months, county Counsel Mike Murphy told MediaNews earlier this month.

The raids surprised San Mateo Mayor Jack Matthews, who said he felt uneasy that four dispensaries in the city -- the three that were raided, and one that shut its doors after the Drug Enforcement Agency arrived -- had "popped up, seemingly overnight," he said in an earlier interview.

The situation was similar to one in Alameda County in 2005, when the growth of medical cannabis dispensaries in unincorporated areas led officials to draft a ordinance limiting the number of outlets there to three -- down from seven that were operating in the area in 2004.

Earlier this week, the city of Livermore joined Dublin and Pleasanton in banning medical marijuana dispensaries, saying the bad elements that such facilities bring to the area outweigh any public benefit. Many Contra Costa cities have banned dispensaries, including Concord, Antioch and Pleasant Hill.

And in Los Angeles -- where the number of dispensaries soared from just a handful to more than 200 in the past two years -- city officials recently passed a moratorium on new clinics until they can develop guidelines.

Hundreds of other cities up and down California have no regulations on medical marijuana dispensaries, including at least 28 where clinics or delivery services are operating, according to a MediaNews analysis.

Law enforcement officials say a lack of local oversight could allow dispensaries to open near schools or parks, with no way for authorities to prevent it.

"I think they could easily be surprised," said Modesto police Chief Roy Wasden, who heads a statewide task force on medical marijuana. "They're not prepared for the issues that will surround dispensaries opening up."

According to Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, 27 cities and eight counties in California have ordinances allowing and regulating dispensaries.

An additional 56 cities, including Dublin, Fremont, Pleasanton and South San Francisco, and three counties have enacted bans (which some advocates maintain are illegal), and 80 cities and seven counties, including Contra Costa, have imposed temporary moratoriums, according to Americans for Safe Access.

In June 2005, Alameda County's Board of Supervisors passed a law limiting the number of marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas and establishing a selection process.

Under the law, one dispensary is allowed to operate in each of the three zones created within the county's unincorporated areas: Ashland, San Lorenzo and Castro Valley. The new ordinance forced a handful of dispensaries in the county to shut down.

Each of the three dispensaries with county permits must renew the permits every two years. The renewals are reviewed by county health and zoning departments and approved by the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.

According to Capt. Dale Amaral of the sheriff's office, the county's ordinance is set to be reviewed by the board of supervisors sometime in the next several months -- something the board asked to do when it approved the rules in 2005.

As part of the review, the sheriff's office and the county Department of Environmental Health have proposed two significant changes to the law -- one would allow the three licensed dispensaries in unincorporated Alameda County to carry hashish, and the other would outlaw those dispensaries from carrying any food made with marijuana.

The remainder of the state's 478 incorporated cities and 58 counties have not addressed the issue.

Across California, there are at least 400 known medical marijuana dispensaries -- and likely hundreds more that are unpublicized.

About 15,000 Californians have registered for state medical-marijuana identification cards. Because the cards are voluntary and not required to obtain medical marijuana, officials cannot say with certainty how many people actually are seeking the drug.

Pro-legalization groups estimate there are 150,000 to 200,000 medical-marijuana users in California -- up from about 30,000 five years ago.

Law enforcement agencies remain concerned about the potential for unregulated dispensaries, with their stashes of drugs and cash, to attract crime to neighborhoods.

And some of the facilities, they say, are simply profitmaking enterprises that sell at stiff prices to healthy youths and the seriously ill alike.

The Los Angeles Police Department has reported an increase in crime near some facilities and has received complaints about activities, including one dispensary handing out fliers for free marijuana samples to students at Grant High School in Valley Glen.

Alameda County authorities noted the same spike in crime near some facilities in unincorporated areas.

Medical-marijuana advocates and some academic experts, however, say such concerns are overblown.

"I think that's something that law enforcement is using as a tactic to spread fear," said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access.

"And to intimidate city and county officials from doing what's right and what's just, which is to establish protections for these facilities and, if necessary, regulate them in some sensible way."

The Reason Foundation issued a report earlier this year saying that marijuana-related crimes have decreased since Proposition 215 -- allowing medical use of marijuana in California -- was passed by voters in 1996.

"Common sense would say there's no reason why a well-regulated dispensary would add to ambient crime in the neighborhood at all," said report author Skaidra Smith-Heisters.

The only factor that might contribute to crime, she said, "would be the fact that they're operating without any ground rules right now."

Although the Bay Area was the first to embrace medical marijuana -- and its cities were the first to figure out how to handle dispensaries -- the fastest growth has shifted to Los Angeles, and especially the San Fernando Valley.

Three years ago, the city had perhaps one or two known dispensaries. Today, there are at least 150 listed in directories maintained by advocacy groups. City and law enforcement officials say there are as many as 200 to 400.

About half of the city's known dispensaries are in the San Fernando Valley, meaning a region that has about 5 percent of the state's population has 19 percent of its medical marijuana facilities -- more, in fact, than the entire Bay Area from San Jose to Marin County.

The Los Angeles City Council recently placed a moratorium on the opening of new facilities while it figures out how to deal with the growth.

Council members are generally sympathetic to dispensaries that are seen as helping the seriously ill, but they want to be able to regulate them and weed out the bad actors.

Although California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996, growth has occurred only recently because there had been confusion about how the law worked. In 2003, the state enacted legislation spelling out a series of specific regulations.

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 essentially confirmed the validity of Prop. 215, but it also upheld the federal government's right to prosecute marijuana patients under federal law.

Escalated tensions have followed those rulings.

Angel Raich of Oakland and others sued the government in October 2002 to prevent any interference with their medical marijuana use.

The Supreme Court, in a May 2001 ruling on the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, said there's no collective medical necessity exception to the federal ban, which defines marijuana as having no valid medical use.

But it didn't rule on constitutional questions underlying the medical marijuana debate, so Raich and her lawyers tailored a case to raise those issues.

In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to uphold the federal ban, finding that even marijuana grown in backyards for personal medical use can affect or contribute to the illegal interstate market for marijuana and so is within Congress' constitutional reach.

The case was remanded for review on other issues, but after a defeat in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- which ruled in March that medical necessity doesn't shield medical-marijuana users from federal prosecution, and medical marijuana use isn't a fundamental right protected by the Constitution's guarantee of due process of law -- Raich dropped the case in May.

Oakland also is ground zero in another high-profile case demonstrating the clash between state and federal law.

The self-proclaimed "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal, 62, of Oakland was convicted in May in federal court of three felonies for growing thousands of marijuana plants for patients.

Rosenthal, a columnist for "High Times" magazine, said he was acting as an agent of the city in growing the cannabis for the Oakland Cannabis buyers Cooperative.

Although Rosenthal was ultimately convicted, he received no further sentence beyond the one day in jail he had already served. He has vowed to appeal his conviction as a miscarriage of justice.

About nine states have laws permitting medical marijuana, according to Rosalie Pacula, a drug policy analyst with the RAND Corp.

But California has attracted more attention from the federal government, in part, she said, because its laws are looser than other states', allowing patients to possess larger quantities and allowing dispensaries to flourish.

"If you're really interested in protecting patients, keep the quantities low," Pacula said.

Some in Congress are trying to get the DEA to back off, including Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., who support a bill that would block funding for prosecutions of medical-marijuana patients.

Without such protections, businesses that believe they are operating legitimately under California state law still keep an eye out for federal agents and often try to maintain a low profile.

Holistic Alternative Inc., a nonprofit dispensary in Canoga Park, opened three months ago and finds it hard to attract new patients because it can't advertise.

Instead, it and other facilities rely on Internet advertising -- a more discreet option than hanging a big sign out front.

David, a co-owner who asked that his last name be withheld, said he founded the dispensary with a partner who uses marijuana for medicinal purposes and wanted to help others.

"I would hope they would leave us alone because most of our patients are actually really sick," he said. "Probably 90 (percent) to 95 percent of my patients are really sick and do need the medicine.

"If they don't get it from us, I can't see these older ladies and gentlemen in their 60s and 70s walking around getting drugs off the street."

Regulating medical marijuana

Most cities and counties with ordinances regulating medical marijuana dispensaries have passed them within the past three years.

Most include provisions restricting the facilities to more than 1,000 feet from a school, park or other dispensary, requiring security measures and restricting operating hours to the daytime.

Twenty-seven cities and eight counties in California have ordinances allowing and regulating medical-marijuana facilities, according to Americans for Safe Access, a pro-medical-marijuana group. These include Alameda County and the cities of Albany, Berkeley, Hayward, Martinez, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Cruz.

Fifty-seven cities and three counties have bans, including Stanislaus County and the cities of Antioch, Concord, Dublin, El Cerrito, Fairfield, Fremont, Livermore, Oakley, Pinole, Pleasant Hill, Pleasanton, San Pablo, San Rafael, South San Francisco and Union City.

Seventy-nine cities and seven counties have temporary moratoriums, including Contra Costa County and the cities of Antioch, Brentwood, Manteca and Marin.

According to a listing compiled by the pro-legalization group NORML, there are at least 49 dispensaries or delivery services in San Francisco and the East Bay, one in Marin County and 11 in the South Bay/San Jose area.

Oakland passed an ordinance in February 2004 restricting the number of dispensaries in the city to four. They have to be more than 1,000 feet from a school, library, park or other dispensary, and can operate only from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Alameda County passed an ordinance in 2005 that limits to three the number of dispensaries that can operate in unincorporated areas. They have to be more than 1,000 feet from a school, library, park, recreation center, drug recovery facility or other dispensary, and they must be located in a commercial or industrial zone.

Santa Clara County passed an ordinance in 2006 that says its intent is to provide regulation for the convenient, affordable and safe distribution of medicinal marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana. It restricts the facilities to commercial and neighborhood-commercial zones, and it limits them to more than 1,000 feet from schools, places of worship and other dispensaries. The law also allows on-site cultivation of medicinal marijuana, but it does not allow on-site consumption.

San Jose passed an ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries earlier than most major cities, approving in 1998 a series of regulations that include a ban on marijuana consumption on site, limiting hours to 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and prohibiting dispensaries from delivering medical marijuana to patients.

Santa Cruz has an ordinance that prohibits dispensaries from within 600 feet of a school, public park, drug treatment facility or other dispensary, or within any high-crime area. It prohibits the growing and ingesting of marijuana on the premises. It restricts them to operating from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays or Mondays through Saturdays in commercial areas.

News Hawk- User http://www.420Magazine.com
Source: ContraCostaTimes.com
Author: Harrison Sheppard
Contact: harrison.sheppard@dailynews.com
Copyright: 2007 MEDIANEWS
Website: State still hashing out medical marijuana rules – East Bay Times
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sonic goku

New Member
i think marajuana should be legal to the blind, the poor, every one who's even a lil' depressed, old people and even some whiny babies. just becuase of the effect it has on an individual. not be outlawed because of some poll or statistic says it causes cancer or kills brain cells. if you ask me some people need it, i mean it makes it so you cant remember shit ok i'll never remember to hold a grudge again. most tokers are known to be peace makers,bless their spirits. most times if you cross stuff you can lose control even die. most people die from lab drugs. honestly ive never heard of anybody dieing of a weed overdose. ive acctualy tried it several times only to find myself fast asleep. best sleep medicine ive ever taken. now a days even the sun can give you cancer. we all got to go some day best to live free without fear and smoke till we leave our flesh behind.
dont you agree?
even still we need a way to guide the masses. turn a cold shoulder to these hipocryts that just want to get off by "keeping it under control"

neways this is the mind of me


New Member
I have been legal for 2 years, during this time I would use the dispensary Compasionate Caregivers in Morro Bay before it was raided by the Federal Government. I cultivated my own medicine for chronic pain and muscle spasm from herniated discs in my neck and low back area plus from a broken back that broke and a year later cracked again. I degress, the first years' crop well not to good, this year after breeding I am no longer reliant on a dispensary. As per Prop. 215 I cultivate, breed, cure and use my own medical grade marijuana; hence the name "LegalCitizen". Unfortunately there are individuals that do not have a "green thumb" or cannot due to their disabilitating illness' cultivate their own medicine. I have joined NORML, and am active in the community. I urge all patients to contact their local government officials and tell them to stop the raid on these much needed dispensaries for qualified medical users. Also, tell them that the State of California's Head of the American Medical Association (AMA) needs to regulate while complying fully with Prop. 215 so that the Federal Agents can leave Doctors, Patients, and Caregiver Dispensaries. The State should also allow and work with patients for input. I know some readers might quiver at the thought; any other ideas?
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