Pubdate: Sat, 05 Nov 2011
Source: Ukiah Daily Journal, The (CA)
Copyright: 2011 The Ukiah Daily Journal
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

"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 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 Assn. 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.

For more Elias columns, visit
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