Advance for medical marijuana

September 21, 2004

EDITORIAL, Long Beach Press-Telegram

Long Beach has finally, thankfully, placed in its code of law a sensible and compassionate approach to medical marijuana.

The new police policy adopted by the City Council Tuesday is a vast improvement from the previous one, where medical marijuana patients were routinely arrested and forced into costly legal battles with overzealous prosecutors.

Now, legal medical marijuana patients will no longer have to fear humiliating arrests and expensive legal battles to prove their innocence.

Long Beach police officers will now investigate a person's medical marijuana defense, with help from a supervising officer. The investigation may be as short as a phone call to the patient's doctor, or questions aimed at verifying whether or not a person is using marijuana under a doctor's orders.

California voters in 1996 approved Proposition 215, which legalized marijuana for medical purposes. The proposition did not include guidelines or parameters on possession and cultivation, so many local law enforcement agencies, including Long Beach, stuck with an 'arrest everyone and let the courts sort it out' approach. That hasn't worked. Many lawful patients have been subjected to stressful arrests, and then put through wasteful and expensive court trials.

The city's new policy isn't an ideal way to implement Prop. 215. That may come soon with a statewide identification program being developed by the Department of Health Services. A state-issued ID card linked to a patient registry would be the quickest and least intrusive way for officers in the field to determine the legitimacy of a medical marijuana defense.

Meanwhile, though, Long Beach will have a workable, common-sense policy on its books.

It's been a long time coming. The patient advocates who lobbied the City Council, led by resident Diana Lejins, deserve credit, as do council members and Police Chief Tony Batts, who agreed that change was overdue.

Long Beach patients who use medical marijuana have enough to worry about with their health problems, and shouldn't have to live with the fear of being arrested because of their medication. Finally, thankfully, they no longer will.

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