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Enforcing Medical Marijuana Laws

Audio

Aired 10/9/09

The San Diego City Council appointed an 11-member task force to develop regulations for local medical marijuana dispensaries. What kind of regulations need to be implemented to ensure that local medical marijuana laws are enforces properly?

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Above: City Council appoints a medical marijuana task force. The editors discuss federal and state laws.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): If the San Diego City Council didn’t have enough to worry about with all the money issues, they also have to deal with all the confusion about medical marijuana dispensaries. Actually, medical marijuana’s been legal in California for 13 years but a combination of politics, federal law, law enforcement issues and even the marketplace has worked against any clear, local approach to distributing to legitimate medical marijuana patients or their caregivers. So, David, the council is appointing a task force. What is its task?

DAVID ROLLAND (Editor, San Diego CityBeat): Its task, I believe, is to come up with – You know, a few years ago – Let me back up a second. A few years ago, the city council, you know, passed an ordinance that set some guidelines in terms of how much a patient – how much marijuana a patient can have, how much somebody can grow for themselves, that sort of thing. But they really dropped the ball on the other side of the equation, that is how these people get, you know, how these people get this marijuana that they say they need. So that’s now basically what, you know, what this task force is doing, and I believe they’re meeting right as we speak with their first meeting. Their task is to set up some guidelines in terms of collectives or dispensaries, how people get the pot because that’s the equation that was not in – not clarified in Prop 215.

PENNER: JW, Councilman Carl DeMaio, who I mentioned earlier, was the only council member to oppose the formation of the task force, saying that the law outlined by the state was clear. Is the law clear?

JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, KGTV 10News): He must’ve been smoking some dope when he said that. No, the law is not clear. There’s a great deal of confusion and just as he was saying, it – it’s on – how do you get the dope to them? How do you make sure they’re not making money off the thing? I think the reason Bonnie Dumanis and the DA’s office and the local police are so on to the local clinics, there’s some people making some good bucks in this thing, and that wasn’t the intention of this law. The intention of the law was to help people who are really sick get marijuana to help ease their pain, and I believe it’s a very legitimate claim. But like everything done in this state, there’s a lot of unintended consequences with laws passed and one of them is this confusion over who gets the drugs, how they get them to them.

PENNER: Scott Lewis.

SCOTT LEWIS (CEO, voiceofsandiego.org): We’re living under a illogical, irrational and just, frankly, insulting situation for anyone with a brain in this state where the – You know, obviously, there’s legitimate medical benefits to the use of marijuana for certain people but the fact is, is that this law is being used by the millions of others who don’t think that this drug should be illegal. And it’s this gigantic loophole that’s being, you know, is being exploited in a way that is not healthy for the cities, it’s not healthy for the state, and it could be easily rectified with a more rational drug policy toward this – toward this drug that, you know, frankly, if my daughter came to me and said I want to – I’m going to either drink or I’m going to either smoke cigarettes or I’m going to smoke weed, which one do you want me to do? I’m going to tell her to smoke weed. I – The fact is, is that we have a completely irrational policy to something like this and we need to deal with it more clearly. And I think that local officials have taken a beating over this, you know, that they’ve been attacked by people who see marijuana as not a threat and see their actions as a threat to a more rational policy with marijuana. On the contrary, I think that people like Bonnie Dumanis have seen that this law is confusing and it’s being exploited by people who aren’t paying the kind of taxes that could be paid, aren’t – are making it more difficult for people who are trying to follow the law, and I think, frankly, that there needs to be a lot of coherent – Marijuana would be better regulated if it were completely legal than under the current regime that it’s under.

PENNER: Well, for years there’s been talk that California Medical Marijuana Law is a step toward…

PENNER/AUGUST: …legalization…

PENNER: …of marijuana. Do you see that happening in our lifetimes, David Rolland?

ROLLAND: I don’t know. I mean, first of all you’ve got the – on the federal side, marijuana is considered a – is categorized as a Schedule I drug, which puts it with all of the hardest drugs you can possibly imagine, and Schedule I means that there is absolutely no medicinal value whatsoever to that drug. Right now, I mean, congress is a little preoccupied with things like foreign wars and healthcare and, you know, capping trade on emissions and that sort of thing. The last thing they need is a big hubbub over marijuana. But I hope, to answer your question, I hope it’s a step towards legalization because Scott’s absolutely right. I mean, it just makes no sense. It’s – Marijuana’s going to happen. You cannot stop it. So, you know, why not try to contain it. And, getting back to our last topic, why not tax it and earn a little bit of money on the side?

PENNER: Jay…

AUGUST: Like they do in Oakland.

ROLLAND: Yeah.

PENNER: All right, JW, this task force can recommend, that’s all it can do.

AUGUST: Right.

PENNER: It can recommend some rules and regulations. But it’s going to take the council to act. Will they?

AUGUST: Oh, well, I guess Carl DeMaio won’t. But I’m sure they – If they’re talking to their constituency and many of the advocates for pot are very outspoken and very – make very intelligent arguments for being allowed to go to distributors and pick it up, to dispensaries. So they should be listening. They’re young enough that it’s not a bunch of old fogies up there that they’re kind of – they’re younger folks, maybe they’re a little more hip to what’s happening.

PENNER: All right, so let me go back now to something that Scott said about legalization. What do you see, Scott, as the driving force against legalizing marijuana?

LEWIS: You know, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these dispensaries and other people involved in the medical marijuana world, I wouldn’t be surprised if they actually oppose, in some cases, legalization of marijuana because they are building rackets and other situations with regard to this giant loophole that’s in state law that I think they’re interested in protecting. I think that what this – what the city’s doing and I think the mayor could do a lot more to staff and to help this task force come up with better recommendations for how this stuff should be regulated in different communities. Look, they’re simply not regulated near as much as even a corner liquor store or other places. We need some very sensible policies on this and it’s just not being taken care of. And, frankly, I completely empathize and I’m not – I don’t overflow with empathy for city officials very often but I do on this case because there’s just – they’re in a – they’re in between a rock and a hard place. They have no guidance. The feds won’t provide guidance. The state provides very little. And they have no way to provide a plan for how these dispensaries should be located and dealt with.

PENNER: All right. All right. You get the last comment on this, David Rolland. I – JW’s…

AUGUST: Look at this.

PENNER: …holding up the LA Times with the headline that ‘DA in Los Angeles County Prepares to Crack Down on Pot Outlets.’ What’s your final word on this? I mean, there’s jurisdiction there because the feds say marijuana’s illegal. We’ve got ten seconds.

ROLLAND: Well, I like I said before, I mean, I’ll go back to the federal side. I mean, even if California said, hey, we want to make marijuana legal, it’s illegal. It’s considered a dangerous drug on the federal side and that’s going to be a – that’s going to lead to problems.

PENNER: Thank you very much, David Rolland of San Diego CityBeat and Scott Lewis from voiceofsandiego.org and from KGTV Channel 10, I thank you very much to JW August. Thanks to our listeners and our callers. This has been the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.