The Debate On California's Pot Shops
September 19, 2007
Morley Safer, 60 Minutes - CBS NewsThe idea was a noble one: pass a law to make marijuana legal for cancer and AIDS sufferers whose pain and nausea the drug is known to relieve. But the law the Rev. Scott Imler thought would one day put the drug in pharmacies has instead created "pot dealers in storefronts" who sell to anyone with doctors' notes that are fairly easy to obtain.
60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer speaks to Imler and others for a report on medical marijuana, this Sunday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Imler admits the noble idea turned out to be a pipe dream. "I think there's a lot of [people just buying the drug to get high]," he tells Safer. "A lot of what we have now is basically pot dealers in storefronts."
Imler lives in California, one of 12 states to pass a medical marijuana bill. To pass California's Proposition 215, Imler says many more types of patients besides cancer and AIDS sufferers had to be included. "They all have their lobbies. The kidney patient and the heart patient," says Imler. That led to a blanket law covering anyone with pain, setting the stage for the easy-to-get doctor's notes and hundreds of storefront marijuana "clubs." "It's just ridiculous the amount of money going through these cannabis clubs," Imler tells Safer.
Don Duncan, an owner of three medical marijuana clubs in California, says abuse is to be expected as it occurs with prescription drugs as well. "There's bound to be abuse in the system," says Duncan. "What we really need right now are regulations that address those issues."
The "clubs" are supposed to be comprised of patients who grow marijuana for the sole reason of distributing it to fellow members, but Imler says, "Most of these cannabis centers are buying their marijuana off the black market. They're dumping millions of dollars into the criminal black market."
This has not escaped the notice of federal officials, for whom the drug is still illegal under federal law. One of Duncan's clubs was raided by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Shutting down the clubs solves one problem, but could affect the quality of life for people like William Leahy, who suffers from vascular degeneration. "I have a deformity here," he says, pointing to his hip, "and a great deal of pain and discomfort. [The clubs] help me with that," says Leahy.
Imler says it's time for the federal government to step up for people like Leahy. "We only saw the local cannabis programs as a stopgap measure on the way to the federal government rescheduling it and making [marijuana] available in the pharmacy like regular medicines are. Until that happens, we're going to have what we have now, which is chaos."