Local pot laws stink

August 07, 2006

Raheem Hosseini, OpEd, El Dorado Hills Telegraph

My first encounter with marijuana came as a freshman in high school. During the morning carpool rides, our driver's friend would casually hunch beneath the passenger window and light up a small pipe he had packed moments earlier.

Thankfully, our driver Matt never indulged and while his friend was kind enough to offer me my first hit, I politely abstained as well.

A freshman classmate of mine did one better, folding himself into the fetal position and pulling a jacket over his head for the remainder of the ride. It was the only quiet I ever got.

I reflected upon this peculiar episode during a recent Folsom City Council meeting in which council members unanimously outlawed medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

While I vehemently disagreed with the decision, I couldn't blame these elected officials for making it. After all, it seemed pretty clear they were representing the apathy of their constituents.

It has been more than 10 years since the Compassionate Use Act was passed by California voters, yet many local municipalities still struggle with implementing the law, at least in the cases they bother acknowledging its existence.

Roseville flirted briefly with allowing such dispensaries in its community before letting the federal government - in the form of brutish drug enforcement agents - bully it out of the medicinal cannabis business. Elk Grove has structured its laws in such a way that getting a permit to open a pot dispensary is as likely as winning permission to operate a brothel. Rocklin practically spat at the idea, while El Dorado County's stance remains somewhat ambiguous.

As for Folsom? Not a single resident spoke during either the initial public hearing on the proposed ban or two weeks later when the council approved it. The only people to speak out about the ordinance both came from The American Alliance for Medical Cannabis.

"This particular industry has a lot of bigotry and fear in it," said the alliance's Lanette Davies, who compared terminal patients filling their marijuana prescriptions to those getting their painkillers at a Walgreens pharmacy. "This moratorium hurts patients, not criminals."

Davies and political affairs director Ryan Landers went on to tell council members that regulating these businesses actually help decrease crime, that they contribute to the local economy and that they provide a crucial service to the dying and afflicted, but those arguments didn't change the inevitable outcome.

Council members cited the conflict between state and federal laws as the primary justification for making the city's ban permanent.

"I understand the people have spoken on this issue, but unfortunately the people haven't filled in the details," said Council member Jeff Starsky. "And that's what we're talking about - the details."

Vice Mayor Kerri Howell said her support was nullified by federal regulations as well and wondered why cannabis patients weren't permitted to get their prescriptions filled at pharmacies.

I sympathize with the position locally elected officials are put in, but I also see my fair share of buck passing.

Sacramento is one of the few cities to acknowledge the decision made by California voters and while the Feds have busted down a few doors, the city has stuck to its guns. Roughly half a dozen dispensaries currently operate in the state capitol. Take that, John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez.

The truth of the matter is Folsom ducked a similar fight nearly a year ago, when it voted down a clean needles exchange program Sacramento County was shopping to local municipalities.

Incidentally, the same argument that the "disease prevention program," as it was called, would increase criminal activity around pharmacies was also used to naysay the allowance of the pot dispensaries. It's an argument that's been trotted out against Wal-Mart and sex shops, as well.

So if you ever hear someone ask, "What do pot dispensaries, sex shops and Wal-Mart have in common?" you already know the punchline.

Local communities are microcosms of the world in which we live, where compassion and freedom are being increasingly traded for comfort and safety.

More than that, you can see the affect tunnel vision has had on world affairs. The tide has turned here at home against the war in Iraq, but if the Middle East is indeed a colossal bungle, the fault lies with us. A democracy is only as good as its people's involvement.

But people seem to only care about what happens in their proverbial backyards, whether it's a Wal-Mart Superstore potentially opening in Broadstone or a midsize theater setting up in the El Dorado Hills Business Park.

Folsom has passed laws outlawing residents' ability to consume alcohol in front of their own homes or leave trash bins down on the corner more that 24 hours after pick-up, while El Dorado Hills residents seem to think way too much about their neighbors' roofing materials and home color preferences.

As each community takes greater strides toward realizing their Stepford aspirations, I wonder if it's time to candy-stripe one of the homes in Stonegate Village, just to break up the monotony.

It's been said that all politics are local. The same could conceivably be said about all mistakes, as well.

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