Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jun 2008
Source: Redwood City Daily News (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Redwood City Daily News
Author: Michael Manekin
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)


Changing Court Rulings Make Drafting Pot Ordinance Difficult

When federal drug enforcement agents raided three medical marijuana 
dispensaries in San Mateo last year, county officials responded to 
the outcry from local cannabis patients by calling for guidelines to 
distribute the controversial medication.

But the Peninsula's last remaining dispensary was raided by federal 
agents two weeks ago, and the county is still far from creating a 
promised model ordinance designed to help medical marijuana patients 
receive their medication.

What's the holdup?

For one thing, the legal landscape for medical marijuana in 
California keeps shifting with every new appeals court decision and 
proposed legislation, according to Deputy County Counsel Penny Bennett.

Drafting a model ordinance presents another problem because the 
County Counsel's Office must check with the various municipalities 
that would even consider implementing guidelines for the distribution 
of cannabis, Bennett added.

But Ken Estes, the 50-year-old owner of Holistic Solutions, the San 
Mateo-based medical marijuana dispensary which federal agents put out 
of business two weeks ago, believes the county has delayed regulation 
for too long.

"People in the local government should really stand up and support 
us," Estes said during a recent interview in his abandoned dispensary 
on 2nd Avenue and South B Street, which had been serving some 5,000 
patients. "But if they think that medical marijuana is such a 
righteous thing, what are they really doing about it? I have sick 
patients who have to drive now 30 minutes into San Francisco, and 
they have to go to bad neighborhoods, too."

Estes, who said he began fighting to legalize medical marijuana after 
he was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident nearly two decades ago, is 
the owner of three medical marijuana dispensaries, including 
locations in Richmond and Lake County and the San Mateo shop. All 
three dispensaries have remained closed since Aug. 28 when DEA agents 
conducted their raids on Estes' operations, which also included 
several growing areas in the Bay Area and Humboldt County.

No Questions Asked

At Holistic Solutions, as at nearly every other dispensary where cash 
is exchanged for medical cannabis, some of the clientele have no 
legitimate medical need for medical marijuana, Estes said.

Many of the young men in their late teens and early 20s who 
frequented Holistic Solutions probably scored their medical cannabis 
prescriptions from "pot doctors," physicians who make their living, 
in part, by signing off on prescriptions with few questions asked in 
exchange for a couple of hundred dollars, Estes said.

Many medical marijuana advocates and dispensary owners, including 
Estes, insist the state's inability to regulate how doctors prescribe 
cannabis has tainted dispensaries with reputations for serving 
individuals who simply want to use marijuana as a recreational drug. 
When Holistic Solutions opened its doors nearly one year ago, San 
Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer and Chief Deputy District Attorney 
Steve Wagstaffe paid a visit to the dispensary and told Estes they 
were concerned about the number of "young and healthy" customers 
lining up for medicine, Estes said.

"I told them I agreed with them," Estes said, explaining that he told 
the two law enforcement officials that state law requires dispensary 
owners to serve anyone with a state card or a doctor's note. "Doctors 
have to be responsible writing prescriptions, but the state needs to 
work out the logistics."

The Slow Wheels of Government

Actually, county officials committed to working out the logistics all 
by themselves - but that was more than nine months ago.

The officials' commitment, made in the wake of the federal raids that 
eliminated three of the Peninsula's four dispensaries, didn't promise 
to fix the problems with the "pot doctors" or repair the fundamental 
contradiction that state law's sanction of medical marijuana is 
disregarded by the federal government.

Instead, officials asked the county counsel's office to draft a model 
ordinance with the reasonable goal of regulating how medical 
marijuana patients receive their medication - something that several 
dozen cities and counties throughout the state had already 
accomplished. "San Mateo County has always been at the forefront of 
attempting to meet the needs of its citizens, and we have a heart," 
county Supervisor Jerry Hill told the Bay Area News Group last year. 
"If someone is suffering, we want to prevent that. And if someone is 
suffering from a disease, and medical marijuana is their only relief, 
we want to facilitate that within the law."

More than nine months later, Hill said officials are still "trying to 
create the legal opportunity for (patients) to obtain their medical 
marijuana." Then, he echoed the County Counsel's opinion that the 
task is difficult when the legal landscape keeps shifting. 
Nonetheless, he added, the County Counsel's Office continues to meet 
with various city attorneys to nail down a final draft.

For local medical marijuana patients, who have waited nearly a year 
for local officials to help them access their medication, there's 
just one problem: When the county finally gets around to drafting an 
ordinance, the regulations won't allow them to purchase their medicine.

Interpretations of Law

Exchanging money for medical marijuana is against state law, 
according to District Attorney James Fox. State law allows medical 
cannabis patients to get their medicine from nonprofit cooperatives - 
a provision that leaves much room for interpretation.

While defenders of medical marijuana argue that the law allows for 
dispensaries that accept money from multiple patients in exchange for 
cannabis, Fox maintains that such operations serve "customers, not 
patients." Dispensaries serving hundreds of patients are hardly 
nonprofit cooperatives, according to Fox, whose office has made his 
position abundantly clear to the county's city attorneys, local officials say.

Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, an 
Oakland-based advocacy group for medical marijuana, calls Fox's 
interpretation of the law "false."

"If San Mateo County argues that dispensaries are illegal under state 
law, that would mean in essence that three dozen localities in 
California are breaking state law. And we don't believe that's the 
case," Hermes said. 
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