Pot clinic at Fairmont may not be worth it

May 10, 2005


GOOD ideas don't always become reality — for practical reasons.

Take Supervisor Nate Miley's proposal that Alameda County consider opening a medical marijuana dispensary at Fairmont Hospital in unincorporated Ashland. It makes sense in the ever-evolving aftermath of Proposition 215, the medical marijuana measure approved by 56 percent of Californians in 1996. The California Supreme Court has found it to be as legal and legitimate a prescription drug as any other.

'If it's medical,' Miley says, 'let's put it in a hospital setting. Let the county go about doing it.

It just makes sense to me.' And other people.

Unfortunately, the United States government doesn't see it that way. It's against federal law to cultivate, possess and distribute marijuana. To date, there are no exceptions. The Bush administration sees it that way, and so, supposedly, does the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule this year on whether federal bans negate laws in the Golden State and nine others that allow medical marijuana use with a doctor's prescription.

Thus, the fate of Miley's innovative idea — Sheriff Charles Plummer called   it brilliant — may ultimately be decided at another level. Supervisor Scott Haggerty indicates he's not apt to endorse such a clinic unless Congress approves it. Other board members also may not want to put workers in the untenable position of being arrested while doing the county's bidding. And, the idea raises other questions:

-Fairmont is a public medical institution that receives federal funds through Medicare and other programs. How might having a medical marijuana facility on site affect accreditation and federal funding?

-Do Alameda County residents want their county — or a city for that matter — to be in the medical marijuana business? If the feds want to be nasty about it, such a facility could have implications for other programs.

There have been social and legal problems with some private clinics. Plummer seems to believe that having the county own such a facility increases its chances of being operated correctly. We hope that would be true.

-What would be the source of funding for such a clinic? Would it be public or a contract with a private vendor? Some taxpayers would have   problems with the former.

From whom and how would marijuana to be dispensed be secured? Would the county grow it, buy it? Remember, it's illegal under federal law and Uncle Sam's 21st century G-men may want to nip similar ideas in the bud by making an example of such an operation.

There are a multitude of sticky, nuanced questions that must be pondered and answered before the county proceeds.

In and of itself, it's a good idea. One we'd like to see the county seriously consider, if state law prevails. But, if setting up a medical marijuana   clinic in a public hospital exposes the county to federal sanctions, it may not be worth the price. The Board of Supervisors needs to figure that out.

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