Pubdate: Fri, 23 Mar 2012 Source: Times-Herald, The (Vallejo, CA) Copyright: 2012 The Times-Herald Contact: http://www.timesheraldonline.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/993 VALLEJO'S MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES: LET'S MOVE ON TO OUR BIGGER PROBLEMS Emerging from Chapter 9 bankruptcy in an election year... Empty state coffers ... High foreclosure rates ... Unemployment stuck in double digits... And in Vallejo, today's No. 1 issue ... Medical marijuana dispensaries. More specifically, were owners of these questionably legal shops "set up" when police recently raided them? And, even more specifically, can the city legally collect a 10 percent tax on marijuana sales -- as voters say they should? From bankruptcy to cannabis? Really? Really. And, like many shoot-yourself-in-the-foot issues Vallejo often finds itself in, this one was avoidable. The city needs money? Well, if we can't lick 'em, let's tax 'em. The two dozen or so are operating illegally anyway, and we don't have enough cops, so we might as well get something out of this. Who knows, maybe the city someday will extend such logic to prostitution, car thefts, stores that sell liquor to minors, maybe even armed robbers. It's a given that the lack of Vallejo police officers and lingering questions about the medical benefits of marijuana have provided political cover of sorts to Vallejo's dispensaries. Statewide, passage of Proposition 215 in 1996 gave even more. Despite all that evolving public good will and realigned police priorities, dispensary owners have been far from being on safe legal ground. They should have recognized their precariousness, in much the same way drivers do when a CHP cruiser eases into the fast lane: Continue to speed because he can't catch everyone? Or slow down? You know the universal choice. Like that CHP cruiser, Vallejo's dispensaries have gambled that there were too many for police to investigate them all, and that federal narcotics officers had bigger fish to fry. With such a divide-and-conquer strategy, it was no wonder that even more dispensaries opened with impunity. Several dispensary owners sought to help legitimize themselves by backing Measure C, a self-taxing city law last November. But when voters approved Measure C, they apparently were not mindful of -- or chose to ignore -- several things: * Current Vallejo zoning codes prohibit marijuana dispensaries. * Federal law still trumps state law on sales of cannabis. * And perhaps, most importantly, a state appellate court ruling four weeks before the election nullifying a Long Beach law that likely would resemble the types of dispensary regulations Vallejo officials want here. The Long Beach case is on its way to the California Supreme Court. City Manager Dan Keen wisely cited that pending legal question as just one reason to suspend Vallejo's medical marijuana dispensary tax policies, or business tax measures. Keen apparently saw the convoluted legal, law enforcement and -- yes, political -- train wreck the dispensary issue was heading for, and has counseled the council to apply the brakes. Although Keen doesn't suggest a specific course of action, there's little doubt from his 5-page memo that he feels the council should waste no more staff time or money until the state Supreme Court acts. Keen also recognizes that short of a state Supreme Court ruling as well as a "more flexible approach" by the federal government toward enforcing medical marijuana sales, the issues surrounding dispensaries will likely remain an amorphous issue in Vallejo. As for the three raided dispensaries -- based on Keen's report -- they allegedly were operating not only violating federal law, but also state and city ones as well. We'll not pass judgment here on their cases, but the three raids sent an unmistakable message to the remaining dispensaries that they could be next. As far as the City Council members are concerned, Keen's not-so-subtle suggestion that they move on to problems over which they have control has a lot of merit. We suggest they listen.