Editorial:Resolve issues on medical pot

March 05, 2005

, Ventura County Star

After receiving an inquiry from a man interested in opening a medical marijuana dispensary in Simi Valley, the City Council ordered a 45-day moratorium on such businesses. The moratorium, which can be extended, will give police and city officials time to study the request and gauge public opinion.

That is a reasonable time frame given the unresolved legal issues regarding medicinal marijuana and the sensitivity of the issue.

We hope the City Council educates itself and the community on the issue, sets reasonable guidelines and then allows the dispensary to open.

To date, 12 states have passed laws easing or eliminating punishment for use of marijuana with a doctor's permission. California voters passed a medicinal marijuana law -- Proposition 215 -- with 56 percent of the vote, in 1996.

However, federal law still bans marijuana use for any reason, resulting in federal raids of dispensaries and arrests of owners and patients.

The question in Simi Valley again highlights the need for the federal government to change its unreasonable stance against medicinal marijuana.

It is an issue the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on before June, in the case of Raich v. Ashcroft. Justices will decide whether California law or federal law should apply in the case of two sick California women -- one with an inoperable brain tumor and the other with a degenerative spine disease -- who use marijuana on the advice of their doctors. The justices' job would be easier if the federal government simply changed its law to reflect scientific reality.

Evidence backing the medicinal benefit of marijuana includes a 1999 report from the Institute of Medicine at the prestigious National Academy of Sciences that concluded marijuana may be effective in relieving chronic pain and controlling nausea and vomiting in some people with cancer and other serious illnesses.

The Ventura County Sheriff's Department follows state guidelines on the amount of marijuana a person with a doctor's permission may legally possess. That is 8 ounces or a half pound of processed marijuana; 12 immature plants or six mature plants.

Simi Valley residents have been at the center of several controversies regarding medicinal marijuana since Proposition 215 was passed by California voters nine years ago.

With its action Monday, the city of Simi Valley joins a growing list of California cities temporarily banning dispensaries because most cities have no guidelines for licensing them.

Among the questions the Simi Valley City Council needs to answer are: How would the business receive the marijuana? Should the dispensary be restricted to professional office space? How many patients would it serve? What level of security should be required? What would be the allowable distance between the dispensary and schools, libraries, parks, churches? Would background checks on a dispensary owner be required?

If marijuana can ease the pain of the seriously ill, it should be available in a controlled and safe environment, as are such drugs as cocaine and morphine -- an ideal voters in California and other states have overwhelmingly endorsed at the ballot box.

It is time for sick people to be treated with compassion, not like criminals. To that end, we urge a quick resolution to the legal conflict. Allow people to use medicinal marijuana with a doctor's permission, without fear of federal prosecution; and provide a legal and safe way for them to obtain it.

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