Pubdate: Fri, 23 Dec 2011
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2011 The Press Democrat
Author: Chris Coursey, Columnist, The Press Democrat


Just in time for Christmas, "Reefer Madness" is back.

Federal prosecutors are threatening to shut down California's medical
pot dispensaries, which are legal under state law. California Attorney
General Kamala Harris is asking the state Legislature to clarify and
close loopholes in the state's medical marijuana laws, saying those
laws are so confusing that users, growers, sellers, cops and even the
people who work in her office have a hard time telling what's legal
from what's not. Meanwhile, one group is preparing a ballot initiative
for next year that would tax and regulate medical marijuana, while
another group is pushing for a vote to legalize pot for any and all

Why do I equate this with the "Madness" depicted in the 1936
anti-marijuana movie?

Because the way we deal with pot is nuts, and to date most attempts to
treat it as a "controlled" substance have proven to be delusional.

Proposition 215 in 1996 and Senate Bill 420 in 2003 made the use and
sale of medical marijuana legal in California, and guidelines issued
in 2008 by then-Attorney General Jerry Brown defined how dispensaries
could work within the law. Since then, the number of dispensaries --
and the number of people growing pot -- has ballooned. More than a
dozen dispensaries operate in Sonoma County today, and county
government is proposing limits to prevent more from opening.

The federal government, ending an era of benign neglect that started
with the Obama Administration, decided this fall that a lot of medical
marijuana dispensaries are not legitimate "cooperatives" supplying
medicine to sick people, but for-profit operations dealing drugs. They
may be right about that -- at least in some cases.

But the toothpaste is out of the tube, and getting it back in will
only create a bigger mess.

Medical marijuana is a legitimate drug that can help sick people. But
its legalization in California has come with a wink and a nod that is
decidedly non-clinical. Getting a doctor's recommendation allowing you
to use, grow, buy and possess pot is as easy as swiping your credit
card at one of the numerous "clinics" established for that purpose.
"Dispensaries" are retail showplaces that feature two-for-one
promotions, senior discounts, pot-themed underwear and pot doggie
biscuits alongside the "medicine." Even the law -- SB420 -- carries
the same number that for years has been pothead code for marijuana.

When the name of the law is a joke, the law becomes a joke,

The result is that it's hard to find pot that isn't for "medical"
purposes. Firefighters find medical pot growing in burned-out garages
and back rooms of rental houses. Cops find medical pot stuffed into
the trunks of rental cars making a run through Sonoma County from the
marijuana farms of the North Coast to the lucrative markets of Los
Angeles. Narcotics agents find medical pot being trimmed and packaged
by workers making $10 an hour in rural barns and industrial park
warehouses. Parents find medical pot in the backpacks of their
teen-age children.

"Everybody claims it's medical when we find it," a narcotics officer
told me this summer. "Our feeling is, OK, show us the paperwork. And
most of the time, they have it."

Because of that, police often turn a blind eye to small amounts of
marijuana -- whether it's growing in a back yard, bundled in a baggie
or rolled into a joint. In interviews with city and county law
officers this summer, I learned that it takes an awful lot of pot and
a clear intent to break the law before police get themselves entangled
in a marijuana bust.

The thin line between legal medical marijuana and illegal non-medical
marijuana "creates huge confusion" for officers, one police chief told
me. "Pot gets overlooked (by police) because it's just not worth the

It is worth the hassle, though, for those who sell it. Despite a
significant drop in price in the past few years as growers face less
risk of prosecution, marijuana is still a lucrative business. And
while it may be too late to realistically differentiate between
"legal" pot and "illegal" pot on the street, and while it will always
be impossible to control the underground market for a weed that
thrives in the rich soil and mild climate of the North Coast, it's not
too late to find a way to control, regulate and tax the stuff that is
being sold over the counter on the busiest commercial thoroughfares of
our community.

Beware, however: You could go mad in the process. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.