Choosing Science

May 10, 2006


This week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors delivered an important victory for medicine in defiance of the Bush administration’s War on Science. On Tuesday, the supes approved an ordinance to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, and voted to participate in the state Medical Marijuana ID Card Program.
These decisions were made in the face of significant pressure from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which has held that the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, legalizing medical marijuana in the state, has no effect on federal law, under which all cannabis is still illegal.

Just two weeks ago, in an effort to stiffen support for the DEA’s position, the federal Food and Drug Administration came out with a statement declaring that pot had “no medical use,” meaning it remains illegal on a par with heroin and PCP. This was received as more meddling by the Bush administration to favor its notion of morality and disregard empirical evidence, as has also been noted in rulings regarding abortion pills and contraception.

The supes, however, placed their trust in the people of California and their doctors and, as the most populous county in the nation, L.A.’s vote carries considerable weight. Moreover, the county has put in place what advocates like Americans for Safe Access consider the most progressive medipot ordinance in the U.S. It requires safety protocols for users and allows for pot to be consumed on the dispensary premises. For cancer, AIDS, and MS patients, this means no more hiding in the shadows. It will also allow patients to take cuttings home and grow their own weed, thus reducing the cost and making patients more self-sufficient. This is exactly what voters have said they want.

While the ID cards are optional for patients and haven’t proven to be a protection from federal prosecution, the permitting of dispensaries may be a hedge against DEA action. The feds have been very active in raiding medipot dispensaries in the last few years – most notably raiding all 13 dispensaries in San Diego County a few months back – but have not busted facilities with county or city permits. The San Diego County government, for instance, is extremely hostile to dispensaries. L.A.’s action could stop raids like the one that closed the L.A. Cannabis Resource Center in West Hollywood in 2001. More important, it establishes that residents here choose science over false Drug War morality, and that’s an argument whose time has come.

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