As We See It: Medical marijuana abuse?

March 11, 2007

EDITORIAL, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Like Capt. Renault in the movie classic "Casablanca," we were shocked — shocked! — to discover that some proprietors of medical marijuana clinics have pulled down millions of dollars, even as "nonprofit" clinics.

We're also shocked — shocked! — at reports that just maybe some people without a medical condition are picking up their pot at medical marijuana stores.

Most people in California, including us, support the idea of those in need of relief from disease or from chemotherapy being provided with marijuana to take away pain.

But we can't understand what has led this state to adopt a system of distribution that is so easily corrupted. The 1996 state initiative that allowed legal medical marijuana is such a badly conceived law that we think even pot smokers should have voted against it.

There must be a better system of providing treatment for patients who need it. After all, some medical patients are given morphine to help relieve pain, but that hasn't meant that morphine clinics are springing up all over the state.

Former state Sen. John Vasconcellos has blasted the federal Drug Enforcement Agency for keeping an eye on medical marijuana clinics. He told The Associated Press recently: "We're helping people who are sick and they have this fascist mentality against good health and pleasure"

Actually, there's more to this than "good health and pleasure," and Vasconcellos should know better. For example, agents went into a Sacramento marijuana clinic and took away two loaded handguns and 60 pounds of processed marijuana.

In Los Angeles, agents raided several clinics, and discovered that the average clinic had about $20,000 in profits each day. There were four dispensaries in Los Angeles in 2005; today, there are more than 100.

There's more here than just getting marijuana to sick people. Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton has actually gone on record saying that the outlet operators are more interested in big money than they are in providing a service to ill people.

Police officers and narcotics agents found that the operator of another clinic in Los Angeles deposited $2.3 million a bank account within eight months of starting business.

We realize that some clinic operators are doing so out of concern for clients in need. Not every clinic is a problem. But it's obvious — handguns, millions in bank accounts, Porsches, huge amounts of processes marijuana — that there's some abuse going on here.

Some might say that marijuana trafficking is a kind of victimless crime and that at least sick people are being served. But any time you have big money, handguns and suspicious involvement from people on the street, you know there's a problem. Local cities and towns more and more are going to be looking at ways of keeping trouble out of certain areas.

After all, cities try to regulate the number of liquor stores and bars, just because abuse can happen. It's obvious that pot clinics need regulation as well.

What we'd prefer seeing is putting marijuana prescriptions in the hands of doctors, and removing the potential for abuse in obviously under-regulated marijuana dispensaries.

 



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