California medical pot advocates push bill to regulate legal dispensaries

May 19, 2012

Peter Hecht, Sacramento Bee

Medical marijuana advocates Saturday opened a three-day event to rally support to regulate a legal dispensary industry in California, spurred on by videotaped messages from two members of Congress who recently pushed an amendment to deny funds for federal raids on cannabis businesses.

About 200 people, including dispensary operators and people who use marijuana for medical conditions, turned out at a Sacramento labor hall in a conference to rally support for a bill to create a state oversight agency for cannabis business and make it harder for cities and counties to ban dispensaries.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who passed the bill out of his public safety committee, said it faces difficult path to passage as state lawmakers shrink from the medical marijuana issue while "the (federal) Department of Justice is going rogue on us and the U.S. attorneys are participating in this spin cycle of reefer madness."

Representatives of marijuana patients' advocates Americans for Safe Access and a union organizing California marijuana workers, the United Food & Commercial Workers, used the event to attract volunteers to flood the Capitol on Monday to lobby lawmakers to pass Assembly Bill 2312, which is opposed by law enforcement groups.

California's four U.S. attorneys announced last year that they were targeting medical marijuana businesses, which they charged were "hijacked by profiteers" and operating in violation of both federal and state laws.

The crackdown, including letters threatening property seizures and prosecution of dispensary landlords, has shuttered hundreds of dispensaries.

"It's been 16 years since we passed Proposition 215, which called for a safe and affordable distribution system for patients in medical need in California," Dale Gieringer, state director for the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, told the gathering. "We haven't gotten very far in that."

The attendees at the event were greeted by videotaped speeches from U.S. Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, who ripped federal drug agents and President Barack Obama for cracking down on medical marijuana providers in California.

Rohrabacher and Farr joined Reps. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., to introduce an amendment to deny funding for federal crackdowns on marijuana businesses in California and 16 other states permitting medical use. The amendment to a bill funding the Department of Justice was defeated in the House on May 10 by a 263-163 vote.

"I think we thought by now, especially with Barack Obama in the White House, that there would be greater progress on medical marijuana," Farr said. "Instead we've seen raids on clinics, bank assets frozen, inventories confiscated. To me that is not the sign of an informed health care policy."

Rohrabacher said "making medical marijuana illegal is insane."

"And it is even more insane," he said, "to have the federal government using its resources … to attack people in California for distributing medical marijuana."

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