#417 Los Angeles Prepares For Clash Over Marijuana

Date: Sun, 18 Oct 2009
Subject: #417 Los Angeles Prepares For Clash Over Marijuana

LOS ANGELES PREPARES FOR CLASH OVER MARIJUANA

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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #417 – Sunday, 18 October 2009

Today the New York Times focused on the issue of medicinal marijuana
dispensaries in Los Angeles but also covered the growing battle over
the dispensaries across the state.

As stated in the article State Attorney General Jerry Brown’s
guidelines, which you may read at http://drugsense.org/url/kKMJR2lu ,
do “allow for nonprofit sales of medical marijuana” by cooperatives or
collectives properly established in accordance with the state’s laws.

Letter writing activists may find targets for their efforts both in
California and other states at http://www.mapinc.org/topic/dispensaries
and articles about California marijuana issues at http://www.mapinc.org/find?115

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Source: New York Times (NY)

Copyright: 2009 The New York Times Company

Contact: letters@nytimes.com

Author: Solomon Moore

LOS ANGELES PREPARES FOR CLASH OVER MARIJUANA

LOS ANGELES — There are more marijuana stores here than public
schools. Signs emblazoned with cannabis plants or green crosses sit
next to dry cleaners, gas stations and restaurants.

The dispensaries range from Hollywood-day-spa fabulous to
shoddy-looking storefronts with hand-painted billboards. Absolute
Herbal Pain Solutions, Grateful Meds, Farmacopeia Organica.

Cannabis advocates claim that more than 800 dispensaries have sprouted
here since 2002; some law enforcement officials say it is closer to
1,000. Whatever the real number, everyone agrees it is too high.

And so this, too, is taken for granted: Crackdowns on cannabis clubs
will soon come in this city, which has more dispensaries than any other.

For the first time, law enforcement officials in Los Angeles have
vowed to prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries that turn a profit,
with police officials saying they expect to conduct raids. Their
efforts are widely seen as a campaign to sway the City Council into
adopting strict regulations after two years of debate.

It appears to be working. Carmen A. Trutanich, the newly elected city
attorney, recently persuaded the Council to put aside a proposed
ordinance negotiated with medical marijuana supporters for one drafted
by his office. The new proposal calls for dispensaries to have
renewable permits, submit to criminal record checks, register the
names of members with the police and operate on a nonprofit basis. If
enacted, it is likely to result in the closing of hundreds of
marijuana dispensaries.

Mr. Trutanich argued that state law permits the exchange of marijuana
between growers and patients on a nonprofit and noncash basis only.
Marijuana advocates say that interpretation would regulate
dispensaries out of existence and thwart the will of voters who
approved medical cannabis in 1996.

Whatever happens here will be closely watched by law enforcement
officials and marijuana advocates across the country who are threading
their way through federal laws that still treat marijuana as an
illegal drug and state laws that are increasingly allowing medicinal
use. Thirteen states have laws supporting medical marijuana, and
others are considering new legislation.

No state has gone further than California, often described by drug
enforcement agents as a “source nation” because of the vast quantities
of marijuana grown here. And no city in the state has gone further
than Los Angeles. This has alarmed local officials, who say that
dispensary owners here took unfair advantage of vague state laws
intended to create exceptions to marijuana prohibitions for a limited
number of ill people.

“About 100 percent of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city
are operating illegally,” said Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles County
district attorney, who is up for re-election next year. “The time is
right to deal with this problem.”

Mr. Cooley, speaking last week at a training luncheon for regional
narcotics officers titled “The Eradication of Medical Marijuana
Dispensaries in the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County,” said
that state law did not allow dispensaries to be for-profit
enterprises.

Mr. Trutanich, the city attorney, went further, saying dispensaries
were prohibited from accepting cash even to reimburse growers for
labor and supplies. He said that a recent California Supreme Court
decision, People v. Mentch, banned all over-the-counter sales of
marijuana; other officials and marijuana advocates disagree.

So far, prosecutions of marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles have
been limited to about a dozen in the last year, said Sandi Gibbons, a
spokeswoman for Mr. Cooley. But Police Department officials said they
were expecting to be called on soon to raid collectives.

“I don’t think this is a law that we’ll have to enforce 800 times,”
said one police official, who declined to speak on the record before
the marijuana ordinance was completed. “This is just like anything
else. You don’t have to arrest everyone who is speeding to make people
slow down.”

Don Duncan, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a leader in the
medical marijuana movement, said that over-the-counter cash purchases
should be permitted but that dispensaries should be nonprofit
organizations. He also said marijuana collectives needed more
regulation and a “thinning of the herd.”

“I am under no illusions that everyone out there is following the
rules,” said Mr. Duncan, who runs his own dispensary in West
Hollywood. “But just because you accept money to reimburse collectives
does not mean you’re making profits.”

For marijuana advocates, Los Angeles represents a critical juncture —
a symbol of the movement’s greatest success, but also its
vulnerability.

More than 300,000 doctors’ referrals for medical cannabis are on file,
the bulk of them from Los Angeles, according to Americans for Safe
Access. The movement has had a string of successes in the Legislature
and at the ballot box. In the city of Garden Grove, marijuana
advocates forced the Highway Patrol to return six grams of marijuana
it had confiscated from an eligible user. About 40 cities and counties
have medical marijuana ordinances.

But there have also been setbacks. In June, a federal judge sentenced
Charles C. Lynch, a dispensary owner north of Santa Barbara, to one
year in prison for selling marijuana to a 17-year-old boy whose father
had testified that they sought out medical marijuana for his son’s
chronic pain. The mayor and the chief of police testified on behalf of
Mr. Lynch, who was released on bail pending appeal.

And last month, San Diego police officers and sheriff’s deputies,
along with agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, raided 14
marijuana dispensaries and arrested 31 people. In an interview, Bonnie
Dumanis, the district attorney for San Diego County, said that state
laws governing medical marijuana were unclear and that the city had
not yet instituted new regulations.

Ms. Dumanis said that she approved of medical marijuana clubs where
patients grow and use their own marijuana, but that none of the 60 or
so dispensaries in the county operated that way.

“These guys are drug dealers,” she said of the 14 that were raided. “I
said publicly, if anyone thinks we’re casting too big a net and we get
a legitimate patient or a lawful collective, then show us your taxes,
your business license, your incorporation papers, your filings with
the Department of Corporations.”

“If they had these things, we wouldn’t prosecute,” she
said.

Marijuana supporters worry that San Diego may provide a glimpse of the
near future for Los Angeles if raids here become a reality. But many
look to Harborside Health Center in Oakland as a model for how
dispensaries could work.

“Our No. 1 task is to show that we are worthy of the public’s trust in
asking to distribute medical cannabis in a safe and secure manner,”
said Steve DeAngelo, the pig-tailed proprietor of Harborside, which
has been in business for three years.

Harborside is one of four licensed dispensaries in Oakland run as
nonprofit organizations. It is the largest, with 74 employees and
revenues of about $20 million. Last summer, the Oakland City Council
passed an ordinance to collect taxes from the sale of marijuana, a
measure that Mr. DeAngelo supported.

Mr. DeAngelo designed Harborside to exude legitimacy, security and
comfort. Visitors to the low-slung building are greeted by security
guards who check the required physicians’ recommendations. Inside, the
dispensary looks like a bank, except that the floor is covered with
hemp carpeting and the eight tellers stand behind identical displays
of marijuana and hashish.

There is a laboratory where technicians determine the potency of the
marijuana and label it accordingly. (Harborside says it rejects 80
percent of the marijuana that arrives at its door for insufficient
quality.) There is even a bank vault where the day’s cash is stored
along with reserves of premium cannabis. An armored truck picks up
deposits every evening. City officials routinely audit the
dispensary’s books. Surplus cash is rolled back into the center to pay
for free counseling sessions and yoga for patients. “Oakland issued
licenses and regulations, and Los Angeles did nothing and they are
still unregulated,” Mr. DeAngelo said. “Cannabis is being distributed
by inappropriate people.”

But even Oakland’s regulations fall short of Mr. Trutanich’s proposal
that Los Angeles ban all cash sales.

“I don’t know of any collective that operates in the way that is
envisioned by this ordinance,” said Mr. Duncan, of Americans for Safe
Access.

Christine Gasparac, a spokeswoman for State Attorney General Jerry
Brown, said that after Mr. Trutanich’s comments in Los Angeles, law
enforcement officials and advocates from around the state had called
seeking clarity on medical marijuana laws.

Mr. Brown has issued legal guidelines that allow for nonprofit sales
of medical marijuana, she said. But, she added, with laws being
interpreted differently, “the final answer will eventually come from
the courts.”

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Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor http://www.mapinc.org

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