Next Tuesday, Feb. 4, the San Diego City Council will consider approving guidelines for local implementation of Proposition 215, the medical marijuana initiative passed into law by 55.6 percent of California voters in 1996.
An ad-hoc task force has proposed that the City Council establish a program that will issue ID cards for people who are allowed to smoke marijuana for medicinal purposes under Prop. 215. Under the proposal, registered patients would be allowed to possess three pounds of pot and 72 indoor or 20 outdoor marijuana plants. Registered caregivers would be allowed to have 12 pounds of pot on hand and up to 90 plants. Caregivers would be allowed to provide care for no more than 12 patients.
These guidelines should be approved, not only because a City Council subcommittee gave them its endorsement, and not only because 5,382,915 voters in California said yes to Prop. 215 and are waiting for a sensible implementation plan for it, but also because it's the right-thinking, progressive thing to do that will take subjectivity out of the equation from a law-enforcement standpoint.
There's no doubt medical marijuana is a polarizing wedge issue, and that's expected to be reflected in a close City Council vote. Councilmembers Toni Atkins, Donna Frye and Ralph Inzunza can safely be counted on to cast favorable votes, and Michael Zucchet's probably a "yes." Scott Peters says he needs certain concessions to join the yeses. Brian Maienschein is a firm "no," and it wouldn't be surprising to see Mayor Dick Murphy and Jim Madaffer join his camp. Charles Lewis is a wild card.
Toni Atkins is carrying the ball on this one, and if she can get Zucchet and either Peters or Lewis to join up, it's a done deal. If Peters needs a reduction in the amount of pot one person can possess, we'd rather have Lewis on board for the program as proposed. If Lewis can't be convinced, we'll take what we can get from Peters.
As members of the city's task force are quick to point out, the amounts they've recommended are not aimed at what they think people need, but rather at drawing a clear line that police officers can follow when they encounter patients and their pot. The amounts recommended are based on interviews with doctors, reviews of doctors' recommendations and analysis of what other jurisdictions that have passed guidelines have done.
Three pounds may sound like a lot of weed, and it most certainly is a big, fat bundle, but we're talking about a year's worth for patients whose doctors have recommended it for relief of some pretty nasty symptoms. Councilmembers should try not to consider these guidelines with people in mind who smoke pot for fun, and they shouldn't be dreaming up people who would turn around and sell the drug.
They should also try not to lean too heavily on testimony from police officials. There's no doubt they know how to enforce the laws, but they tend to fall in line behind the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which is stuck in a nonsensical way of thinking that considers marijuana among the most dangerous drugs with no positive attributes.
All this proposal does is establish guidelines for police officers to follow. It doesn't do anything other than lend clarification to Prop. 215.Passing the guidelines would bring San Diego into a progressive-leadership camp that includes cities such as San Francisco, Oakland and Santa Cruz. Forward thinkers in those cities know that there are boatloads of anecdotal evidence showing that marijuana helps people suffering from cancer, AIDS, migraines, muscle spasms, arthritis, glaucoma and a long list of other ailments. There are more scientific studies underway, notably here in San Diego, but they are a long way from completion, and the voters who passed Prop. 215 are tired of waiting.