Advocates seek late changes to medical pot rules
April 04, 2011
Chris Cadelago, San Diego Union-Tribune
With the San Diego City Council prepared to ratify medical marijuana restrictions, patients, collectives and cannabis advocates are calling on the city to relax aspects of the rules in advance of a final vote Tuesday.
The regulations would require every storefront collective in the city to close and then apply for an operating permit, temporarily blocking access to thousands of people with doctors’ permission to use medical marijuana.
The permit process could take more than a year, depending on the amount of opposition. While it remains unclear how many collectives would eventually be allowed to operate, there’s universal agreement that it would be far fewer than the 165 that now exist.
Medical marijuana advocates contend that patients and providers should not be zoned into far-flung industrial areas and forced to go through a restrictive compliance process. In addition to expected litigation — initiated either by medical marijuana interests or city attorneys — another concern has emerged as the most immediate.
“Where are patients going to go in the meantime?” said Michelle Medina, general manager of Higher Healing Patients Association. “Many of them don’t have transportation, so how are they going to get to another area? There’s a large part of society that doesn’t have a caregiver and doesn’t have the resources to grow their own medicine. They are the real victims here.”
Fifteen months ago Vey Linville was referred to the University of California San Diego for a double-lung transplant. Despite his primary pulmonary failure, he declined, instead opting to combine Everclear with cannabis concentrates and drinking the mixture over 10 weeks. Now down to small doses, he worries about the potential lack of access.
“To maintain any kind of safe access, there has to be some kind of grace period, some kind of compliance period or we are hanging every patient in the county out to dry,” said Linville, 50, who lives in Spring Valley and visits dispensaries in San Diego. “We have people in the middle of chemotherapy and on dialysis. Are they supposed to drive to Los Angeles?”
Linville, oxygen tank in tow, said he would “figure something out” to get medical marijuana. “But there are a lot of people in convalescent homes and hospice care that are in the middle of dying,” he said. “They don’t deserve this from their government.”
At least 50,000 people living in the county have doctors’ recommendations for medical marijuana, according to the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access, an organization that promotes safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research.
Of those, 704 patients have active medical marijuana identification cards, said Ron Owens, spokesman for the California Department of Public Health. The identification card program, which was initially challenged by San Diego County, is meant to shield qualified patients from criminal prosecution.
Cities and counties have struggled to deal with the proliferation of dispensaries since state voters approved marijuana for medical use in 1996, and most municipalities were slow to set clear rules for storefront operators.
Anti-drug coalitions maintain that over time the initiative became less about the terminally ill and more about an industry of drug legalization. Paul Chabot, founder of the Coalition for a Drug-Free California, faulted San Diego for restricting dispensaries rather than pursuing a blanket ban.
“Once you let them in, it’s like letting cancer into your body. You have to search everywhere, and it starts to take over everything,” Chabot said. “Pot shops don’t cure cancer; rather, they themselves are a cancer to the community.”
Madeline Kerlin, 49, supports efforts to crack down on dispensaries despite using medical marijuana for more than a decade. Suffering from neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to grow in the nervous system, she says cannabis saved her life. Still, Kerlin quit last year because of “unforeseen problems it has created, including the loss of respect and dignity that I once had in my community.”
“The responsibility and the respect of the law has been lost and has gotten out of control,” she said. “It is being used for an excuse to party, be disrespectful, to sell illegal drugs and even (for) landowners and property managers to be dishonest, which creates an unfair housing issue and unsafe neighborhoods.”
The two city ordinances would limit dispensaries to some commercial and industrial zones. Cooperatives would have to be at least 600 feet from each other as well as schools, playgrounds, libraries, child care and youth facilities, parks and churches.
They also must operate as nonprofits, have curtailed business hours and hire security guards.
Americans for Safe Access wants the following amendments: a two-year compliance period for existing collectives; allowing storefronts in all commercial and industrial areas; and reducing the proximity restriction to 600 feet from schools. In addition, members want the approval process to mirror that of pharmacies.