Pubdate: Wed, 28 Mar 2012
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2012 SF Newspaper Company LLC
Author: Chris Roberts


The City's 21 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries are all 
illegal, according to a court filing by District Attorney George 
Gascon that could portend a seismic shift in San Francisco cannabis policy.

City law allows medical marijuana to be bought in businesses called 
dispensaries and delivered to patients who have been prescribed 
marijuana by a licensed physician. Dispensaries must acquire business 
licenses and seller's permits from the state Board of Equalization 
before receiving city Department of Public Health permits to sell marijuana.

Yet in December, a woman was arrested for making a delivery on behalf 
of Mr. Nice Guy, a city-licensed dispensary whose storefront was shut 
down under pressure from the federal Justice Department. Police said 
the woman was arrested with $631 in cash, more than 100 plastic bags 
of dried marijuana buds and hashish, and 48 "edibles" - 
marijuana-laced cookies, brownies, or other treats.

Despite being presented with paperwork showing that the woman and 
buyer were licensed patients and that she was working on behalf of a 
registered dispensary, the DA charged her with two felony counts for 
marijuana possession and sales, said her attorney, former District 
Attorney Terence Hallinan.

In a legal brief, Gascon argued that the law is not on her side.

"While California's medical marijuana laws may be complex, the law is 
clear that all sales of medical marijuana are illegal," Gascon wrote. 
"The ... shell game that continues to be played with medical 
marijuana immunities does not change that conclusion."

Gascon's office cites the 1996 Compassionate Use Act as well as state 
court decisions to make his argument, which says medical marijuana 
patients must "participate directly in the cultivation of marijuana" 
to enjoy protection under the law.

"This means that people with AIDS have to be out digging in the dirt 
to enjoy protection under the law," countered former District 
Attorney Terence Hallinan, who is representing the woman in court. 
"This is impossible."

Gascon's office declined to comment on the pending court case, but 
spokeswoman Stephanie Ong Stillman said the brief in question 
actually dates back to the administration of former District Attorney 
Kamala Harris, who is now state Attorney General. Her nuanced 
comments suggest that the DA's office may be having second thoughts 
about its position.

"We have since reviewed the brief and while it accurately reflects 
state law, we have determined it needs to be revised to reflect the 
positions of the city of San Francisco and also the policies of the 
District Attorney's office," Stillman wrote via email.

Local defense attorneys say they haven't previously seen this 
argument in San Francisco, and that it resembles filings made in Los 
Angeles by District Attorney Steve Cooley, who ran against Harris and 
lost in 2010.

"It's disappointing to see the San Francisco district attorney's 
office parroting the garbage spewing out of Steve Cooley's office 
when they try to torture an interpretation of [state law] beyond any 
recognition," said Oakland attorney Robert Raich, who argued a 2005 
medical marijuana case before the United States Supreme Court.

The inconsistent policies - with one county agency calling illegal 
what another one issues permits for - is "emblematic of the ongoing 
disconnect in San Francisco with regard to the city's approach to 
medical cannabis," complained Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom