S.D. urged to take stand on medical pot

July 25, 2006

Craig Gustafson, San Diego Union-Tribune

With medical marijuana dispensaries under mounting pressure from law enforcement agencies, supporters have urged the San Diego City Council to call for a halt to federal raids, and to regulate the shops through local authorities.

But city officials, already saddled with a pension crisis and numerous financial problems, didn't appear too thrilled to tackle the issue.

Nearly 70 supporters packed the council chambers yesterday, giving council members a brief two-minute plea to help keep dispensaries open so those with painful ailments wouldn't suffer needlessly.

Local law enforcement agencies and federal drug agents raided some marijuana dispensaries July 7 and made 15 arrests. On Friday, federal agents visited 10 shops and warned operators that they are operating illegally.

Supporters of medical marijuana asked the council to pass a resolution that would prohibit local authorities from assisting federal agencies in the arrest or prosecution of patients or dispensary operators. They also want the council to develop regulations to provide seriously ill patients safe and legal access to marijuana.

Council President Scott Peters, who has supported the use of medicinal marijuana, said he would need to seek input from Mayor Jerry Sanders and the Police Department before deciding whether to put the proposed resolution up for a vote. He also said the council's schedule is full until September and no immediate action could be taken.

The mayor's spokesman, Fred Sainz, said Sanders supports medicinal marijuana but hasn't studied the issue of regulating dispensaries.

State voters approved the use of medicinal marijuana with a doctor's recommendation 10 years ago, and follow-up legislation in 2004 tried to provide mechanisms for distribution. State law, however, leaves it up to local municipalities to regulate distribution.

Many have interpreted the state law as providing for dispensaries, but the San Diego County District Attorney's Office views them as illegal.

Under federal law, marijuana is illegal under any circumstance.

County supervisors sued the state of California this year to try to overturn the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 and the bill permitting retail sales to qualified patients. The case is pending.

City Councilman Jim Madaffer said there's no need for the city to take any action until the case is resolved.

“Until there's clarity between state and federal (laws), I think any city laws are pointless and perhaps placing the city at potential risk,” he said.

Ron Little, a Point Loma retiree who uses marijuana to alleviate osteoarthritis, said it's disappointing that officials are playing politics when science clearly shows the benefits of medicinal marijuana.

“This is clearly part of the cultural divide that's been fought on a number of issues,” he said.


Craig Gustafson: (619) 293-1884; craig.gustafson@uniontrib.com

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