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Medical Marijuana Dispensaries On The Ballot In Four Cities

October 1, 2012 2:41 p.m.


Alex Kreit, Associate Professor Director, Center for Law and Social Justice, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former chairman San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force.

Kenny Goldberg, Health Reporter, KPBS.

Related Story: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries On The Ballot In Four Cities


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ALISON ST JOHN: Thousands of San Diego voters will get a chance to cast their ballots for or against allowing medicinal marijuana dispensaries in their town. Four cities, Delmar, Solana Beach, Imperial Beach and Lemon Grove will have the issue on their ballots. We've just seen federal agents shut down San Diego County's last medicinal marijuana dispensary quite recently so what is the twist with the new initiative? Here to clarify the situation as it is now we have KPBS health reporter, Kenny Goldberg. Thank you for coming


ALISON ST JOHN: And Alex Kreit, who is a former chair of the city's medicinal marijuana task force and also a professor at Thomas Jefferson school of Law. Good to see you, Alex.

ALEX KREIT: Good to see you too.

ALISON ST JOHN: So Kenny, let's start with you giving us a bit of an overview. Tell us where we currently stand in San Diego County when it comes to dispensaries. Is it anywhere legal up to open one?

KENNY GOLDBERG: Technically there are some dispensaries operating. They are not operating with any publicity or anything like that. I'm told there are some but there are no openly running dispensaries now anywhere in the County.

ALISON ST JOHN: So it's been 16 years since we have the proposition voting, the compassionate use laws voting that medicinal marijuana should be allowed. What's happened since then?

KENNY GOLDBERG: What happened since then it is a gray area. Because, yes, while Californians voted to approve medical marijuana in the initiative and in any subsequent legislation it was never exactly spelled out how people are supposed to be able to get it other than be able to grow at home or join small collectives where they could grow it if people cannot grow it themselves. Dispensaries as I understand it had never been exactly spelled out in the state lesson we had dispensaries crop up all throughout California and in San Diego but what happened is the US attorneys especially within the last year have been extremely aggressive in enforcing federal been against marijuana and they've been closing the dispensaries down throughout the state.

ALISON ST JOHN: So it's true to say where we saw the last one close, I think it was the beginning of September the last one which was located (inaudible) after the county had actually passed its very restrictive laws as to where it could be passed.

KENNY GOLDBERG: That's right. It was permitted, it was operating legally according to the county guidelines and yet the US attorney Lori Duffy in this region forced it to close and as I said, the US attorneys throughout the state in the Bay Area and Los Angeles they've been closing them down left and right.

ALISON ST JOHN: So Alex what are these initiatives that are going to be on the ballot? There are four cities, why these four cities, why now?

ALEX KREIT: I think that the key issue especially if you look at what happened in San Diego with closing a lot of the dispensaries a big part of that was the lack of any zoning or permitting ordinance. The US attorneys have cracked down, but I think just as influential in shutting down dispensaries in San Diego has been the absence of a permitting ordinance. The county had one that was very restrictive but in the city proper there was really no ordinance, so the city attorney was able to shut down a lot of the dispensaries. If you look at other parts of the states that have ordinances, zoning ordinances, permitting ordinances that spell out exactly how and where and under what circumstances does dispensaries can operate in those places US attorney has not been quite as successful at closing them all down. There are still a number of them operating. So I think the idea is to get from the medical marijuana proponents to have to zoning ordinances on the books to spell exactly where these places can operate and under what circumstances.

ALISON ST JOHN: If I remember (inaudible) to the process at the county of developing and ordinance which took a long time and came out with really pretty restrictive guidelines and even had, the one, the last dispensaries closed down, so what is different about, how can this get around that?

ALEX KREIT: I think it is a numbers issue really. I mean it is one of those situations where the reason I think in other parts of the state or in other parts of the country in Colorado, and the federal government has been successful in shutting everybody down is because there's simply so many operating. So they will make threats and in some cases they will prosecute folks but because there are so many other people adjust would continue operating and living under the threat of federal prosecution whereas if there is only one, as there was legally operating in San Diego County before it closed down, that's an easy target for the federal government. So, I think the idea behind this is that you know, California has long medical held marijuana law, since 1996, and we've seen you know, throughout its history sort of different approaches that the federal government has taken and throughout that I think medical marijuana advocates have said California needs to lead and not be so concerned with exactly what the federal government is doing at any single time. That is California thinks that patients with legitimate medical needs to have access to medical marijuana, then we should vote our beliefs on that and the federal government is going to do what they're going to do but it's also control of California voters.

ALISON ST JOHN: Why these cities? They represent North and South all over the county, but why these four cities?

ALEX KREIT: I think my sense is that advocates of these measures you know are probably interested in doing pallet ordinances in other parts of the county, but probably for whatever reason, these are the ones where they were most successfully able to gather the signatures and thought they had the best chance at running a successful campaign this cycle.

ALISON ST JOHN: So now Kenny, we heard your feature this morning on which you spoke to a patient into some of the leaders down there in Imperial Beach. What are the patients who are coming forward and saying they really need the drug, what kind of conditions do they have?

KENNY GOLDBERG: I spoke to this one guy named the lintel is on the Americans for safe access group that he actually helped pushed the measure in Imperial Beach, but he's also medical marijuana user. He has severe emphysema. He was told six years ago she needed a double lung transplant or he would soon be dead. And instead he did some research on the Internet and he found a treatment for breathing problems that was prescribed back in the 1800s. Widely prescribed, called tincture of cannabis. And he found a recipe for it and join the local collective, dispensary and got enough marijuana so he could actually make it himself. What he told me the other day is how difficult it is now to get even any marijuana to make his tincture because there is no more operating dispensaries and he's really upset about that.

NEW SPEAKER: It's immoral to make me choose between suffocating and doing business with a drug dealer.

ALISON ST JOHN: So that is a pretty dramatic choice that he's presenting there. Have you found in your reporting that most of the people who are relying on it are patients, because of course the controversy is that it's not just patients going to the dispensaries. What is your sense about that?

KENNY GOLDBERG: That is the controversy. The popular notion is that it's just a bunch of kids going to get stoned. But when you talk to medical marijuana advocates, they will say, and they will produce a lot of people who are cancer patients who suffer from chronic pain, guy like Freelandville who have severe emphysema you've got relief from a day say that there are thousands of legitimate patients in San Diego County that neither medical marijuana, they needed as medicine. They have a doctor's recommendation for it, and yet they cannot get their hands on it.

ALISON ST JOHN: So Alex, the Department of Justice say they're responded because the confluence of complaints from citizens around the dispensaries about activities that disrupt the neighborhood., Do you see that, how do you respond to that?

ALEX KREIT: I think that that just doesn't hold water if you look at the facts to what they've done certainly there are some instances where the places operating improperly and there are complaints that the federal government has targeted places that had been operating entirely within the law. Such as the mother of collective that was the last one here in Sydney good County that was operating completely in compliance with a strict ordinance, places in Oakland like Harborside which has the support of city officials when the federal government targeted them to try and shut them down there was a press conference that elected city officials in Oakland came to insert this place has the full support of the community. So, when you look at what the federal government has been doing, what's been so surprising is that they have been going after a lot of places that have the support of the community. It's not just that they're going after people who are operating out of compliance with the state love. They are just kind of thermal appearances going after all of them.

ALISON ST JOHN: How aggressively has the DA been pursuing users of medicinal marijuana?

ALRX KREIT: That you have not seen as much because it's one of the situations where patients are to likely to come across federal enforcements reader absent some unusual circumstances and there certainly have been some cases but if you think about the average person who is in possession of a personal use amount of marijuana the DEA is simply never going to you know, come across anyone like that and they are quick to expend the resources to find them. Usually salespeople encounter law enforcement they are pulled over by a police officer or something so there have been less cases but is less common.

KENNY GOLDBERG: Yeah, I mean the feds are going after these big operators so to speak which they consider to be drug dealers or drug traffickers. And as I mentioned earlier, the federal government doesn't consider marijuana to have any medicinal value and it is totally illegal under federal law. So regardless of California's law, regardless of local zoning ordinances, the feds feel that they are entitled to shut these things down.

ALISON ST JOHN: Okay so I understand that now there is a new twist which is the local DA Laura Duffy has said that local officials are not immune to prosecution if they so much as pass an ordinance, or even vote to put something like this on the ballot. You are an attorney by training, how much water does that help?

ALEX KREIT: I think not much. It's interesting because you look at the statements that she's made and they're very carefully worded. Is it a local employees wouldn't have immunity if they were doing anything to violate the federal controlled substances act. But of course that's only going to be relevant if they are committing a violation of federal law to say somebody doesn't have immunity simply means there is no immunity. But if you look at the ordinances, all they say is that there's going to be permitting licensing scheme and these kinds of schemes have been enacted all across the state of California. In other states, in Arizona for example they have a similar set. The stated Arizona actually argued we shouldn't have to go and enforces new state law that was passed a couple years ago because our state employees might be prosecuted if they implemented. And the federal court to attack case out and said there's no evidence that state employees would be committing a federal crime by implementing this law or that there would be any real danger of being prosecuted. So I think it is the same thing and frankly if you look at a statement like that I think the only way it can be interpreted is a sort of attempt to try and influence voters or create this misimpression that there is some real danger that local officials will be prosecuted. But if you look at the law in this area it is crystal clear that there's really no viable theory to prosecute these folks. They are just issuing a business license. They are not doing anything that is a drug crime.

ALISON ST JOHN: So Kenny were to the local officials in Imperial Beach stand on this obviously they put on the ballot. To get an impression where they stand on it?

KENNY GOLDBERG: The majority of city Council and the Mayor of Imperial Beach are against it. They don't like a, they passed a ban on dispensaries in their town they could allow up to three people get together and collectively grow the drug, but they don't like the idea of Prop S, which is what is called on the Imperial beach ballot because they say would allow up to (inaudible) is a pretty small community in a pretty small commercial district and this is overboard

ALISON ST JOHN: Alex before we wrap this up is there something on the move to get it on the state ballot again?

ALEX KREIT: There was some effort to get something together for the ballot in 2012. That ultimately didn't pan out., But I think that is something people are looking at because if you look at California in comparison to some other states Colorado I think is a great example they have a statewide regulatory system and I think it functions a lot better than in California where it is a lot more haphazard. I think of the problems we've had in California with the dispensaries has been because there is really no clear uniform detailed state guidance about what is legal, how to get permits and all that sort of thing. And you could look to a place like Colorado and I think it tells us we probably need to enact something like that in California.

ALISON ST JOHN: Quickly, Kenny.

KENNY GOLDBERG: One thing interesting I noticed on the fall ballot in Washington and Colorado they've got a measure to introduce recreational use of marijuana and if those things pass who knows what the feds would do?

ALISON ST JOHN: That would be interesting would get we could go on talking about this and I'm sure we will talk about it again I'd like to thank my guests, KPBS Health Reporter Kenny Goldberg and Alex Kreit, law professor and former chair of the city's medicinal marijuana task force. Thanks for coming in.

BOTH: Thank you.