Sept. 22 2009 07:09 PM

All this can be avoided by just legalizing weed


We must admit to having some mixed emotions about the recent raids of local medical-marijuana collectives. Initially, we identified with the boisterous condemnation of what appeared to be thuggish behavior of the police and sheriff's deputies and grandstanding by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis. But that was followed almost immediately by the feeling that many of these collectives brought this mess on themselves.

Just look at the medical-marijuana ads in the back pages of CityBeat. Some of these places offer a “free gift” to new members. Why would nonprofit medicine collectives want to lure prospective members to their shops and away from others? And why would they promote an image—complete with chunky buds, pot leafs, references to “420”—that would only attract recreational smokers? We can only come to the conclusion that they're trying to make money.

Under the spirit of California's famously murky medicinal-marijuana scheme, people who can demonstrate that they're sick can smoke pot to alleviate unpleasant symptoms without fear of arrest. The system allows patients to have “caregivers” who can legally provide marijuana to them, but these caregivers are not allowed to make a profit. It's the height of naïveté to think that the medicinal-marijuana market—which exploded locally after the Obama administration announced that it would cease raiding pot dispensaries and the Supreme Court declined to consider San Diego County's challenge to Prop. 215—hasn't been invaded by recreational weed smokers, pro-pot doctors and profit-seeking dealers. It simply has. And while that was inevitable, it's a shame because the market is also populated by caring folks who are genuinely trying to provide a service to those whose illnesses and injuries are made more tolerable through the use of marijuana.

California is a patchwork of cities and counties with wildly differing attitudes about medicinal marijuana and regulations aimed at clarifying one of the most confused laws in the state's history. Some 32 cities and nine counties have ordinances on the books regulating dispensaries, according to the group Americans for Safe Access, while 51 cities and three counties have established moratoriums on dispensaries and 113 cities and seven counties have banned them.

The city of San Diego was pretty quick to regulate medicinal marijuana on the patient side but has been way too slow to devise rules on the caregiver side. Meanwhile, San Diego County is widely known as the local government that's perhaps the most hostile to the notion that pot can be medicine. And while Dumanis claims to be supportive of a patient's right to smoke marijuana, her actions show that she wants to make it as hard as possible for that patient to get his or her hands on the stuff—take, for example, her extraordinary assertion that there's no such thing as a legal pot collective in San Diego County. And her comment that patients can simply grow their own is elitist and idiotic. Maybe Dumanis has a nice backyard perfect for raising pot plants, but many people live in small apartments and, by the way, don't have the expertise it takes to cultivate high-quality plants.

Nothing in this editorial should be construed as support for the raids she trumpeted. We'll be watching as the dozens of people arrested go to court. The police said they went after collectives that were clearly operating for-profit. What was their pre-raid evidence? Are they also targeting other types of nonprofits, or do they just have it in for pot? No need to answer that last one—it was rhetorical.

We remain fully supportive of the intent of Prop. 215 and the guidelines established last year by Attorney General Jerry Brown. It'd be nice if California, either through the legislative or initiative process, would clarify once and for all how patients are supposed to get this medicine. We wish the San Diego County Board of Supervisors would at least resign themselves to the will of the voters, and we urge the city of San Diego to pass an ordinance regulating collectives.

But no matter how we begin to consider marijuana as a public-policy issue, we keep concluding the same thing: We can avoid all this trouble and expense if we just legalized, taxed and regulated pot. That way, patients wouldn't need a process, we'd neutralize the violence surrounding Mexican importation, wilderness would be protected from clandestine farmers and California would reap a financial windfall. Then, our only problem would be keeping Big Tobacco and Big Pharma from gobbling up the industry and totally killing our buzz.

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