Rx for medical marijuana

June 13, 2004

EDITORIAL, Long Beach Press-Telegram

Earlier this year a Long Beach deputy city attorney told a citizens' advisory commission on public safety that it shouldn't become involved in medical marijuana issues because the City Council had no business in that area. Actually, there are few policy issues more in need of council leadership than medical marijuana.

Seven years have passed since the majority of California voters approved the use of marijuana for medical reasons, yet many sick patients still live in fear of arrest and prosecution. Their fears are well justified. Because Long Beach's local policies have not been revised to match the state laws, sick people legally using marijuana are considered to be criminals. They're not.

Tonight the City Council has an opportunity to provide Long Beach, at last, with a resolution to conflicting medical marijuana laws. The council will be asked to form a task force to study ways in which Long Beach can regulate the legal use of medical marijuana under Proposition 215, the state law. (The task force recommendation was brought forward by the Public Safety Commission, which, to its credit, didn't listen to the deputy city attorney's initial advice.)

The task force idea isn't new or unusual. It has already been implemented by several large cities in California, which have sought to clarify local policy and resolve the conflicts brought up by Prop 215. San Diego, for example, has issued Prop 215 guidelines that include carefully regulated identification cards for patients, as well as official parameters on possession and cultivation. Long Beach can, and should, do the same.

The arrests and citations of local medical marijuana patients in recent years have been pointless, subjective and cruel. In some cases they have amounted to an incredible waste of court resources, police time and taxpayer money.

Judges have dismissed all but one of the four Long Beach medical marijuana cases that have gone to trial. The other was overturned on appeal. One particularly troubling case involved a septuagenarian veteran with chronic hip pain who was arrested for growing some immature plants with a doctor's recommendation. The man was forced to pay attorneys' fees in more than two dozen court appearances while the case was tried, refiled and dismissed three times.

The public doesn't want sick people arrested for using medical marijuana. A 2004 Field Poll found that 74 percent of Californians favor total legal protection for patients, a substantial increase from the already high 65 percent of voters who approved Prop 215. Judges and juries are dismissing or rejecting nearly all of the medical marijuana cases that come before them. Police departments don't need to waste their time going after medical marijuana patients, and individual officers in the field shouldn't have to decide which conflicting law to uphold.

Maintaining the status quo is unacceptable, as lawful patients are subjected to humiliating and stressful arrests, and overtaxed public safety and judicial systems are further burdened.

The Long Beach City Council can fix that by creating a medical marijuana task force, staffing it with reputable representatives from the medical, public policy and public safety fields, and changing Long Beach's medical marijuana policies so they conform to state law.

It is past time for Long Beach to find a reasonable solution to contradictory and inconsistent medical marijuana laws.

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