A mandate for misguided police on medical marijuana - OPED

June 22, 2004

Diana Lejins , Long Beach Press-Telegram

Long Beach police don't get it. They just don't get it. Despite otherwise outstanding service to the good people of Long Beach, the Police Department continues its intolerance toward the sick and dying in our community. Current LBPD policy requires that patients who use medical cannabis be cited or arrested.

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It's not the average rank-and- file officers, many of whom voted for Proposition 215 (The Compassionate Use Act), that are the problem. The command staff stands contrary to a change of paradigm involving medicinal marijuana. Their rigid, uncompromising attitude blocks the way. Plain and simple, they don't want to get it.

The June 15 council meeting was a prime example of their hard-hearted indifference. Standing in for a conspicously absent Chief Anthony 'the buck stops here' Batts, Deputy Chief Luna disregarded a plethora of compelling testimony that swayed a compassionate city council. He stubbornly refused to allow lawful patients any relief from the terror inflicted upon them by a sadly out-dated zero-tolerance police policy.

He offered excuse after lame excuse in resistance to various inquiries regarding existing policy and the possibility of change. His shameful attempts to demonize cannabis and portray law-abiding disabled seniors as hardened criminals in order to justify the department's stance bordered on the ridiculous. Blaming a physician-recommended medicine for the many crimes in this city is tantamount to saying that cars are responsible for all traffic deaths and no one should be allowed to drive them.

This flawed reasoning undermines any sense of validity. Moreover, it makes the whole department appear insensitive, punitive and dogmatic.

In response, the venerable council wisely voted to enjoin these guardians of public safety to create a policy within 91 days that complies with California law. Considering it has been eight years since the passage of Proposition 215, the time limit was more than adequate.

Understandably, patients harbor a marked distrust for Long Beach police. This has been fostered by the cavalier attitudes of upper echelon about this issue. Since the passage of SB 420 last year, spelling out clear guidelines, the Police Department has ignored the impassioned pleas of individuals and various organizations.

While numerous cities and counties throughout the state have implemented workable programs for legitimate patients, our police administrators have been utterly derelict in their duty to provide reasonable guidelines so that licit patients can remain law- abiding citizens. Sadly, their delay has developed into a cruel travesty of justice inflicted upon the ill and disabled.

Judging from past performance (or lack thereof), the main concern of patients is that the authorities will attempt solely to patronize the council. The administration may try to develop a minimalist policy that may seem to follow the letter of the law but eludes the spirit of the law. They might engage in a myriad of delay tactics and discourage participation by the public or patient advocate organizations. They may create guidelines that are totally reliant on a governmentally-issued ID program that they know is currently non-existent and may not be implemented in the near future. Or, they could continue their course of strategic willful ignorance.

Another pertinent factor in this equation is the huge monetary deficit that Long Beach faces. Arresting patients is not only costly for the patients, but depletes city and county coffers as well. Furthermore, this blatant violation of public civil rights and other laws that protect the disabled has pushed the city onto a path toward litigious jeopardy. Additionally, officers have been forced into a position of personal liability. When law enforcement administrators are crying the blues about budgetary restraints, they should be especially diligent in spending scarce taxpayers dollars.

Hopefully, the Long Beach City Council will maintain due diligence and do whatever is necessary to enforce their directive come Sept. 14. In the meantime, how many more must die in senseless agony or suffer needlessly, forgoing their right to choose a medicine that could ease their suffering? How many will further deteriorate because they are in fear of arrest and persecution from those who are supposed to uphold the law and protect them?

Just as police expect citizens to obey all laws, so do citizens expect the police to uphold all of them. It has been said that kindness and compassion for the more vulnerable members of our society cannot be mandated, but in the case of our misguided local law enforcement it may be the only way. Then maybe they finally will get it! 

Diana Lejins is the director/founder of Advocates For Disability Rights, an American Sign Language interpreter for the deaf and a free-lance photojournalist. Her advocacy for the disabled evolved from her intimate involvement with the hearing-impaired language and culture. Advocates for Disability Rights may be reached at a4dr@yahoo.com .

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