Sick shouldn't suffer in laws over marijuana

April 07, 2007

EDITORIAL, San Luis Obispo Tribune (CA)

Californians approved growing and smoking pot for health reasons more than a decade ago. Yet, as last week’s bust of a Morro Bay marijuana dispensary illustrates, law enforcement — whether local or federal — is still dropping the hammer on such co-ops.

Unfortunately, the sick and the suffering are caught in the middle.

Here’s our take:

If illegal drug dealing is taking place at marijuana dispensaries, or doctors are cavalierly handing out medical marijuana cards, then, yes, the system is being gamed and penalties should be paid.

But if dispensaries such as Morro Bay’s Central Coast Compassionate Caregivers are operating within the limits of California law, and are being raided as part of federal "War on Drugs" policy, then, no, we don’t see why those in pain should be made to further suffer.

It’s difficult to weigh in definitively, because neither the county Sheriff’s Department nor the federal Drug Enforcement Administration is commenting on the ongoing investigation.

Here’s what we do know: The California law, adopted as Proposition 215 and known as the Medical Marijuana Initiative, makes it possible for physicians to prescribe pot for patients suffering from cancer, AIDS and other serious illnesses, even though other state laws prohibit its general or recreational use.

The county Board of Supervisors in late 2006 passed an ordinance that allows the Public Health Department to issue physician-approved medical marijuana cards. The IDs are plugged into a statewide network that law enforcement can check immediately to determine if marijuana is legally in the hands of a patient.

But here’s where the issue of legalities gets further clouded. The federal government, acting under the Controlled Substances Act and supported by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision, has shut down about 30 compassionate use co-ops around the state in the last two years.

Sick and dying patients are the victims in this tug of war between state and federal laws. That’s an untenable situation that must be resolved. Patients need assurance that dispensaries they rely on won’t be closed overnight, inducing them to buy on the street or drive great distances to out-of-county co-ops.

But it will likely take years, maybe even decades, for the federal government to craft a policy that will allow states to determine levels of medical marijuana, especially in light of the emotionally freighted feelings surrounding the federal government’s war on drugs.

Until then, we echo former Supervisor Shirley Bianchi’s reasoning regarding medicinal marijuana: "If you have a discrepancy between federal and state law, the only thing you can do is take the compassionate route."

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