Friday, December 11, 2009
What should be done to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego? That was the question the city council grappled with at a spirited meeting on Tuesday. The council decided to postpone further discussion on the matter until January 4. We talk about the complexities of California's medical marijuana laws, and the local proposals that have been discussed so far.
GLORIA PENNER (Host): This week, the City of San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Task Force presented its recommendations on how to regulate the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries but the recommendations were neither adapted nor rejected. Instead, the council postponed discussion until after the new year. So, David, let’s start with the postponement. Were the recommendations tough to deal with?
DAVID ROLLAND (Editor, San Diego CityBeat): No, and I think there had been some talk before the recommendations were presented to the council that they would be kicked over to committee for further discussion. So I don’t think it was terribly surprising that the council didn’t act definitively on them. I think they were just sort of presented and the public had a chance to comment and I think it’ll get kicked down to—I believe it’ll get kicked down to the committee level for further discussion about…
PENNER: A city council committee.
ROLLAND: Yeah, I mean, these were recommendations that came from, you know, came from a task force. They’re advisory in nature and they’re, at this point, they’re just ideas.
PENNER: But the chair of the task force, a guy named Alex Kreit, he’s an attorney, I think, at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, he has an opinion on the legality of those dispensaries and that seems to be sort of key to the whole thing. This is what he said in an interview with us this week.
ALEX KREIT (Professor of Law, Thomas Jefferson School of Law): California’s law regarding medical marijuana for collectives and cooperatives, I think clearly makes medical marijuana collectives and cooperative storefronts legal. That’s been the opinion of the Attorney General, who’s issued guidelines that state that, that’s been the opinion of local officials across the state who have all been operating on the assumption that these entities are legal. I’m aware that the District Attorney of San Diego County has taken a different view.
PENNER: Now, is that key to it? Is the whole issue of whether all of this is legal or not, what’s sort of holding it up, keeping it from becoming a smooth operation of dispensaries that dispense to people who need it?
ROLLAND: Absolutely, it’s key. I mean, if – I don’t want to make light of the situation for patients who truly need relief from symptoms from terrible conditions but this is really a kind of a comedy of errors. It’s a classic example of making public policy as you go along. You know, and – But the interesting thing about this issue is that it’s criminal justice and public policy sort of intersecting and interweaving along the way as you try to figure things out and make things up as you go along.
PENNER: Let’s hear what Jim in San Diego has to say about this. Jim, you’re on with the editors. We are running out of time quickly, so could you make it brief, please?
JIM (Caller, San Diego): Well, there’s no doubt that these businesses are illegal and they’re operating for profit and the District Attorney of Los Angeles also agrees that 100% are operating illegally. They don’t have patient caregiver relationships, and there’s also no doubt that the police should regulate these businesses because no matter what the land use policy becomes, it will still be the burden of the police to see that these businesses operate legally and I don’t think we should be burdening the police with a policy that they’re not in control of.
PENNER: Thank you. Scott Lewis.
SCOTT LEWIS (CEO, voiceofsandiego.org) : Look, I don’t necessarily disagree and I’ll be interested to hear what you say, Dave, but the point is, is that the – he’s correct that they do obviously want to make money. I mean, there’s a reason that these are proliferating all across the city. It’s not because they want to help cancer patients. I’m sorry, they want to make money.
LEWIS: And I think we need to deal with the fact that, look, this is a ridiculous—like you said—comedy of errors that would be handled simply if we treated marijuana the way that we should, which is as a tobacco or alcohol type of thing. Get it out there, control it, regulate it, put zoning in place about where it can be, and then tax it, and then we can…
PENNER: And I think that’s the issue. Should these be regulated by land use and zoning laws or, as the Union-Tribune recommended, that they be treated as police regulated businesses like massage parlors or strip joints or pawn shops. Barbara.
BARBARA BRY (Opinion Editor, SDNN.com): You know, I agree with the editorial and with what Scott said and actually, to add a bit of humor at the end of the show, with all the heavy topics we’ve discussed, you know, we should all get stoned and, you know, tax – make marijuana legal and pay taxes…
PENNER: I thought you were.
BRY: Yeah, well, to come here today. So, I mean, that’s one answer, a partial answer to our budget woes.
ROLLAND: First of all…
ROLLAND: …you cannot paint all these people with one broad brush. There – Yes, I believe there are people who saw an opening, saw a way to make money. There’s a tremendous, gigantic demand for marijuana out there and these people – some of these people see an opportunity there to make some money. But I also happen to know that there are very conscientious people behind some of these collectives who are really trying to stay within the spirit of Proposition 215, to provide at, you know, on a nonprofit basis, and that doesn’t mean they can’t make money. They have to – they have to pay overhead, they have to pay staff, they have to make enough money to be able to provide the service. So I would – I’m not going to paint them all with one broad brush. Now the editorial that you guys mentioned, the editorial’s based on the opinion of Bonnie Dumanis. This is based on the opinion of somebody who is batting zero so far in her prosecutions of these people.
PENNER: That was the Assistant Chief of Narcotics under the DA, right?
PENNER: Who said that he doesn’t know…
ROLLAND: Who’s working for Bonnie Dumanis.
PENNER: He said I don’t…
LEWIS: But Bonnie Dumanis has also said publicly that she knows of no marijuana collectives that are legal. She just took – she just lost her first case in court a couple of weeks ago against Jovan Jackson.
PENNER: Okay, well, let’s take one more call on this. Becky in Pacific Beach is with us now. Becky, you’re on with the editors.
BECKY (Caller, Pacific Beach): Oh, hi. Listen, I’ve got kids and I’m really concerned about the impact of these marijuana shops on my kids. I think it increases youth access to marijuana and makes them think that it’s okay to use marijuana because they’re seeing the shops everywhere.
PENNER: I’m sorry, Becky. These are medical marijuana shops.
BECKY: No, listen, my community has nine of them. There are five in La Jolla, there’s eight in Clairemont. They’re right near the schools.
ROLLAND: How many liquor stores are in those neighborhoods?
BECKY: Yeah, but listen, you know, it’s not legal. We’re telling our kids not to use marijuana and I know a 16 year old healthy boy who got a marijuana recommendation. People – The kids are buying marijuana from these stores and selling it to their friends. This is really dangerous for our youth.
BRY: Well, I…
ROLLAND: That’s illegal. That shouldn’t happen.
BRY: I agree that, you know, the stores are there for the patients, the medical patients who need the marijuana and any other use at this point in time should be prosecuted. We tell our children not to drink, and David’s right, there’s liquor stores everywhere. So, you know, the voters of California passed Proposition 215 and we should live by that law.
PENNER: David, to wrap it up a little bit. Some activists are reported to wanting to see the dispensaries banned or under a moratorium. Do you think that’s going to happen?
ROLLAND: No, I don’t think so, not – I don’t – not given the makeup of the current city council. I think there’s too much support for the intent of Proposition 215 for that to happen.
PENNER: Why is there, Scott, a lack of clarity about whether dispensing and using marijuana for medical reasons is illegal? You heard what Becky said. I mean, she’s concerned about it becoming illegal when the wrong people get in there and get hold of the pot.
LEWIS: Well, because they’ve never properly defined this as a public policy issue. I mean, you’ve got a – we don’t have Prozac dispensaries, we don’t have, you know, Advil dispensaries. I mean, if this is a true medicinal product, why don’t we just go to the pharmacy. This is a ridiculous situation that was allowed in as a way to sort of – to somehow legalize marijuana rather than actually dealing with the problem of actually legalizing marijuana and so we’ve had this backdoor situation and until that gets cleared up, we’re going to have arguments like this that make absolutely no sense.
ROLLAND: And the problem there is that the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule I drug, which means that there is no medicinal value to it whatsoever and so it’s got – eventually, something has to happen in congress.
PENNER: Simply because of the conflict between what’s happening in California and what federal law says.
PENNER: All right, Barbara Bry, why don’t we have your final comments on this.
BRY: Well, I would summarize what Dave said. Federal law says marijuana’s illegal even for medical uses; California law says you can use marijuana for medical uses. And so that conflict needs to be resolved.
PENNER: Where do you think this is going to end up, David, as far as the city council is concerned? It sounds like they’re caught between a rock and a hard place.
ROLLAND: Oh, I think eventually they will pass a set of land use regulations, you know, and it’ll probably – it’ll dovetail with the criminal justice part. They’ll, you know – that task force will go back and attack some of the more law enforcement aspects of this issue and eventually the council will, I think, pass some level of regulations. But then, you know, you’re still going to have the conflict with law enforcement. You know, it all depends on what kind of district attorney you have in your – and police chief you have in your community. And right now they are – they’re defining this issue as narrowly as they possibly can.
PENNER: Well, David Rolland, thank you very much for being with us from San Diego CityBeat. And Scott Lewis from VoiceofSanDiego.org, and Barbara Bry from SDNN. We’re actually – SDNN.com. We’re actually going to continue this discussion tonight on KPBS Television on San Diego Week at 8:00. Please join us. And your comments can be posted at KPBS.org. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.