Pubdate: Tue, 18 Oct 2011
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2011 Appeal-Democrat
Author: Thomas D. Elias


The muscular young man with greasy hair, tattered clothing and a 
menacing demeanor sauntered into a Los Angeles fast food emporium the 
other day, his breath reeking of liquor and his demands very frank.

"Give me some money," he demanded of a customer waiting for a 
breakfast burrito.

"Not on your life, smelling the way you do," replied his intended 
mark. "No way am I paying for you to buy more booze."

"That's not what I want," the young man scoffed. "I need my medical marijuana."

"You expect me to buy your weed?" the fast food customer replied, 
incredulous at the young man's frankness.

"Look," the younger man sneered in an aside to a woman standing one 
cash register over. "This guy don't smoke no pot. Can you believe that?"

There, in a nutshell, was the reason for the federal prosecutions of 
alleged medical marijuana profiteers announced the other day by four 
United States attorneys in California.

At first glance, the prosecutions of large-scale medipot growers, 
some dispensary owners and a few of their landlords appeared to flout 
the pledge President Barack Obama made early in his term not to 
target medical marijuana users and caregivers who are following state 
laws, like the 1996 Proposition 215 which legalized medipot use in 
California for persons with a written doctor's recommendation.

Doctors' recommendations, however, have become easier and easier to 
obtain; they're now sometimes available inside the very dispensaries 
that sell the pot which fulfills the alleged recommendation. The ease 
of obtaining a recommendation is not at all comparable to the process 
of getting a prescription for any legal, regulated drug.

That's one reason the California Medical Association has just called 
for legalizing and regulating all pot, either in the manner of 
alcohol or ordinary prescription drugs.

Some cities try to limit both the amounts of pot that users can 
legally own and sellers can legally stock. Others try regulating 
dispensary locations, while many cities and counties won't allow them 
at all, noting that federal law still doesn't permit medical use of 
marijuana, despite several academic studies and reams of anecdotal 
information about its benefits in coping with things like the side 
effects of cancer chemotherapy and other ailments like migraine headaches.

The result has been constant confusion about what is legal or illegal 
where medipot is concerned.

Into this morass stepped the four U.S. attorneys, the top federal 
prosecutors stationed in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and 
San Diego, with jurisdictions that cover virtually the entire state.

"The California Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215) was intended 
to help seriously ill people," said San Francisco prosecutor Melinda 
Haag. "But the law has been hijacked by profiteers motivated not by 
compassion but by money. We want to put to rest the notion that large 
marijuana businesses can shelter themselves under state law."

Added Andre Birotte Jr., the Los Angeles U.S. attorney, "This is not 
what the California voters intended or authorized and it is illegal 
under federal law." Federal laws always take precedence over 
conflicting state measures. But there is no real conflict between 
state law and what Obama's prosecutors have done. Said the official 
ballot argument in favor of Proposition 215, signed by two doctors 
and a registered nurse: "(this) will allow seriously ill and 
terminally ill patients to use marijuana if, and only if, they have 
the approval of a licensed physician."

There was no mention there, nor is there any indication anywhere 
else, that most voters who accepted this argument had any intention 
of allowing legal use of marijuana by persons like the young man who 
demanded cash in that fast food place.

In fact, unlike prosecutors appointed by both ex-Presidents Clinton 
and George W. Bush, the Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys are not 
targeting legitimate patients or relatively small growers who provide 
their medical marijuana.

And local officials who have tried with only limited success to 
regulate medipot dispensaries and get them to carry out the 
humanitarian spirit of the campaign for Proposition 215 applaud the 
new prosecutions.

"We're gratified that (federal authorities) see what we see, which is 
what began as an opportunity to help seriously ill patients has 
evolved into storefront drug sales and trafficking," Jane Usher, a 
special assistant Los Angeles city attorney, told a reporter.

The bottom line: Medical marijuana has indeed been hijacked, and if 
the new push against for-profit dispensaries and their operators can 
somehow clarify the status of medipot while still allowing access for 
the genuinely ill and cutting the confusion that's reigned here for 
15 years, it will make a positive contribution to California life.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom