Medical Pot Shop Issue Hangs in Air
July 14, 2005
Michael Fitzgerald, columnist, The Record (Stockton)Is a marijuana dispensary wafting Stockton's way?
The question came up this week after the City Council voted not to extend its one-year moratorium on medical-marijuana dispensaries.
Pot stores sprouted in California in 1996 after voters approved Proposition 215, allowing seriously ill people and their caregivers to grow and buy and ill persons to use medical marijuana.
Dozens of dispensaries sprang up in the Bay Area. Even Modesto has at least one. But when an Acampo man wanted to open one here last year, the council said whoa.
Lifting the moratorium was not a show of support for dispensaries. On the contrary. It was the council's way of destroying the illusions of dispensary advocates who hoped a studious council might emerge from an extended moratorium pro-dispensary.
'I was sort of the opinion Stockton should not hang on to the moratorium and string these folks along,' said Mayor Ed Chavez, channeling Shakespeare, who said you must be cruel to be kind.
So what will happen if somebody now seeks to build a pot dispensary in San Joaquin County?
There's a process involving zoning and the Planning Commission. That doesn't matter, though.
Because District Attorney Jim Willett has said dispensaries are illegal and he'll prosecute them.
This brings us to the weirdness of the medical-marijuana law.
State law is usually consistent. Not so with Proposition 215. California's cities have broken up into medieval Italian city-states, each with its own standards for pot cultivation and distribution.
Stockton's take is that medical-marijuana users and their caregivers should be left alone. But dispensaries are not caregivers courts have ruled this way; they are for-profit businesses hawking an illegal drug.
The DA's position is legally accurate. Proposition 215, for all its good intent, is seriously flawed. Its authors made buying pot legal but not selling it. Selling it remains illegal. The DA, of all people, cannot be expected to rebel.
But surely if it's legal for somebody to buy medical marijuana, it should be permissible for somebody to sell it.
Change the law, Willett said. 'If that's the will of the people, then clean 215 up and legalize those things. 'Boy, I'll follow that in a heartbeat.'
He raises an interesting point. Given that Proposition 215's glaring flaws have been around since 1996, lawmakers should have fixed them. Yet there appears to be no legislation in the works. Somebody get Sacramento on the phone.
Because Deputy DA Phil Urie warns he may hammer dispensaries with criminal and civil actions. 'We might even go after them under the Business and Professional Code, Section 17200: 'unfair business practices,' ' Urie said.
The unfair practice is selling something illegal under federal law, Urie explained.
Ah, yes, federal law. The feds classify marijuana as a Schedule 1 killer drug right up there with heroin. They claim marijuana has no scientifically valid medicinal use. Never mind those buttinsky doctors.
On the subject of marijuana, the feds are the incarnation of reefer madness.
But we don't have to be.
The planning commissioners and City Council members should do their homework on this issue and not rely on overconservative staff reports, overoptimistic marijuana lobbyists or anybody else.
They should get clear on the science -- not the law or the politics -- which suggests marijuana is a good pain reliever, appetite stimulator and antidepressant.
They should study how dispensaries work in other cities and bone up on the regulations necessary to keep them clean.
They should develop informed positions, pro or con, even if the district attorney exercises a sort of veto power. Their time to be leaders may yet come.