Pubdate: Thu, 14 May 2009
Source: Daily Breeze (Torrance, CA)
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Newspaper group
Author: Thomas Elias
Note: Thomas D. Elias is a syndicated columnist who covers California issues


There is silence now where once loud huzzahs erupted from medical
marijuana advocates in California after U.S. Attorney General Eric
Holder signaled this spring that federal authorities will no longer
raid or interfere with medipot dispensaries in states where it is
legal, so long as users abide by state law.

That's because no big change has occurred since then in this state,
whose voters via the 1996 Proposition 215 became the first in the
nation to pass a state law legalizing medical use of marijuana.

Federal prosecutions of medipot providers arrested while George W.
Bush was president continue. Inconsistencies in what's legal persist
from one county to the next. While some officials in big cities and
urban counties advocate municipal sales of pot to keep prices down and
make sure clinics operate within the law, their counterparts in other
places continue banning medipot altogether.

Los Angeles County, for the biggest example, has more than 100 medical
cannabis clubs, storefronts and delivery services, but nearby cities
like Anaheim and Pasadena ban them. While some medipot supply outlets
feature smoking lounges and marijuana brownies, counties like Amador,
Contra Costa, El Dorado, Merced, Riverside, Stanislaus and Sutter ban
all sales, according to the pro-pot group Americans for Safe Access.

Then there are the abiding inconsistencies between state and federal
law. Where the state says anyone can smoke or otherwise take marijuana
for medical reasons with a mere recommendation from a doctor, federal
law recognizes no medical effects at all from the weed, despite
Holder's stated new policy.

That's how a federal appeals court the other day could uphold a
10-year prison term for a Chico medipot patient convicted in 2002 of
conspiring to grow more than 1,000 marijuana plants, even though he
had a doctor's recommendation and testified he was growing the plants
for himself and four other patients who shared expenses.

That's why, if you use medical marijuana and live in housing
subsidized by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development,
you can be evicted anytime - even if you're in complete compliance
with every state and local law. As a result, Americans for Safe Access
recommends on its Web site that such patients not smoke pot in their
apartments, but try to use only edible pot concoctions or vaporizers.

For while the California Supreme Court has upheld Proposition 215 and
counties are required to issue ID cards to medipot patients who
register, plenty of county officials refuse to comply. San Diego
County, for one, has not issued cards, instead suing the state in an
action that now awaits review by the U.S. Supreme Court.

If the nation's highest court upholds the San Diego County stance,
there's a strong possibility several counties that reluctantly began
issuing IDs last year will stop doing it or rescind the cards they're
already given out.

That's because plenty of local officials believe medipot is a scam, a
get-rich scheme by growers who somehow conned the majority of state

An example is Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who told a
reporter the Holder position doesn't matter to him. "I will do my job
irrespective of what the Drug Enforcement Administration (which
answers to Holder) does or does not do," he said.

Adding to the welter of confusion is the fact that despite Holder's
policy change, Justice Department lawyers nominally working for him
argued before a federal appeals court a month later that marijuana
"currently has no accepted medical use."

At the same time, some politicians argue that California should just
forget about both federal law and all disputes over the medical merits
of pot, and simply legalize the weed in order to tax it, which might
help balance the constantly strapped state budget. Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger, taking a cue from Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano
of San Francisco, who last winter proposed full legalization, argued
this month that California should consider just that.

Some estimates claim marijuana is the largest cash crop along
California's north coast and in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada
Mountains, with estimates of the total street value of
California-grown pot ranging up to $14 billion per year. A 10 percent
sales tax on that amount would contribute more than $1.4 billion to
the state's coffers.

But there's confusion here, too, since no one can say how much prices
might drop if pot became legal.

This all creates a legal maze of almost unprecedented complexity that
probably won't be resolved until or unless Congress legalizes
marijuana, or at least its use for legitimate medical reasons. No one
should expect that to happen anytime soon. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake