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San Diego Faces a Medical Marijuana Industry


Aired 7/28/09

Using marijuana for medical reasons has been allowed in California for a dozen years. But court challenges to medical marijuana and federal prosecutions, have put a limit on groups that want to provide and sell it until now. KPBS Health Reporter Tom Fudge tells of this year's dramatic increase in activity around medical marijuana.

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Above: Reporter Tom Fudge speaks with San Diego Week host Gloria Penner about medical marijuana and attempts to legalize pot in California.

— Using marijuana for medical reasons has been allowed in California for a dozen years. But court challenges to medical marijuana and federal prosecutions, have put a limit on groups that want to provide and sell it until now. KPBS Health Reporter Tom Fudge tells of this year's dramatic increase in activity around medical marijuana.

Five months ago, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told some reporters that federal raids on state-sanctioned marijuana dispensaries would stop. His statement marked a dramatic change from the Bush administration. And it got the attention of Steve Walter, assistant chief of narcotics for San Diego District Attorney's office.

"Shortly after that happened I started getting a lot of phone calls from members of the public wanting to know if the could open a dispensary," says Walter, "asking me for guidance on how you go about doing it."

Attorney Patrick Dudley, who has defended some distributors of medical marijuana, says he got about two calls a day for two months following the Holder statement. Dudley estimates there are now more than 60 medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of San Diego. The growth in the medical marijuana industry has raised a lot questions, and it's caused two local cities to call for a time out. Chula Vista and National City have passed moratoriums that prevent the creation of any dispensaries for at least 45 days. Steve Castaneda, a Chula Vista councilman, says his city wants to know the rules and protect the public interest before it moves forward.

"We're trying to understand how best to insure that we have the restriction and regulations and that we have the business owners that will comply with the laws that we set forth," he says.

Proposition 215, passed in 1996, allows people to cultivate and to consume marijuana with a doctors recommendation. But it left many questions unanswered. More recently, the legislature has passed clarifying laws and the State Attorney General has issued guidelines. Current law allows medical marijuana users and care givers to form non-profit collectives to grow and provide marijuana. Sales to anyone outside the group is still a crime, under state law.

One of the more established marijuana dispensaries in San Diego is called Hillcrest Compassionate Care. Founder Paul Derrick Cody says his collective is run on donations from members. Cody himself uses a wheelchair as a result of a spinal cord injury.

"Pain is something that is continuous on a day to day level," he says. "Cannabis is something that allows my legs to relax, that allows the spasms to subside. But more so, I've known other people that the cannabis has helped across the board."

Cody says it has helped people who are bipolar and schizophrenic. Its helped people with Alzheimer's disease and people suffering from post-traumatic stress. Ads for dispensaries suggest marijuana could help reduce anxiety, insomnia, depression, even asthma.

Prop 215 allows doctors to recommend marijuana for anything they think it will help. Prosecutor Steve Walter says he agrees with those who say prop 215 has become a bit of a joke.

"This was something that was sold to the electorate as a proposition that was going to help those who were grievously ill. But I think the vast majority of the people who are doing this are just doing it to get high," says Walter.

Marijuana does have some proven medical uses. Studies run by the University of California have found marijuana is very effective in treating pain in AIDS patients. A UCSD study of people with multiple sclerosis found marijuana reduced pain and muscle spasms. That study also showed people who used marijuana suffered a significant loss in cognitive skills. Yes, they did get high.

Attorney Steven Feldman has been a proponent of marijuana legalization. He says the desire some people have to get high doesn't mean medical marijuana is a joke.

"I'm sure that people use marijuana for recreational purposes. But that doesn't mean that we should outlaw the use of the opiates that are used for patients in serious pain. Nor does it mean that we should outlaw the use of those marijuana patients who benefit from the use of marijuana," says Feldman.

Tomorrow San Diego's city council committee on public safety and neighborhood services will take up the subject of medical marijuana dispensaries.

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Avatar for user 'ParadiseLost'

ParadiseLost | July 28, 2009 at 12:43 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

The current situation is the direct result of President Obama speaking out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand Obama is saying legalization is a bad idea, yet he does nothing. Furthermore, the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy” is saying “Legalization is not in the president’s vocabulary, and it’s not in mine, Marijuana is dangerous and has no medicinal benefit…”

On the other hand AG Holder is telling people he is deemphasizing raids on “care providers” and “it’s a state problem”. He says this despite the clear intent of Congress and the Supreme Court’s upholding the law made by Congress. Evidently AG Holder forgot his job is to enforce the law (as opposed to an individual case) and thinks it’s to make it by not enforcing it.

The irony is Congress gave AG Holder the power & process to make it available for medicinal purposes. But here again AG Holder has done nothing.

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Avatar for user 'TheKindGardenersCollective'

TheKindGardenersCollective | July 28, 2009 at 4:02 p.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

Tom, good informative article.

What is missing is coverage of, even mention of the "Local Problem". Our County DA, Bonnie Dumanis, (as evidenced by Prosecutor Walter's cynical comment) and the majority of the County Board of Supervisors are openly hostile to:
a/ Medical Marijuana use by Qualified Medical Marijuana Patients
b/ Providers of Medical Marijuana to Qualified Medical Marijuana Patients
c/ Delivery services providing Medeical Marijuana to Qualified Medical Marijuana Patients

The San Diego City Council has the balls to openly address the situation, and had begun discussions which will be a HUGE help to qualified medical marijuana patients obtaining safe, high-quality, less-expensive medicine.

By allowing Collectives to provide medical marijuana to qualified patients, there is an instant division between legal, and illicit posession, use, and sale. Because legal, medical sales/distribution to qualified patients through legal Collectives is right 'out in the open", the Police are will regain thousands of hours of officers' time, better used solving major crimes and keeping us safe.

Medical marijuana patients are not to be feared. They are not drunk drivers, they are not violent or dangerous, mostly, they are just like you & me. And since 1996, because medical marijuana is LEGAL, they are NOT criminals. Please do not treat them like they are.

Will Johnson
The Kind Gardeners Collective

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Avatar for user 'OpGreenRx'

OpGreenRx | July 31, 2009 at 2:14 a.m. ― 7 years, 8 months ago

Join the cause to Stop Operation Green Rx!
Entrapment of Medical Cannabis Patients in San Diego Continues.

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