Pubdate: Thu, 05 Apr 2012
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Los Angeles Times


Amid Conflicting Court Decisions, Lawmakers Should Quickly Clarify 
California's Laws on Medical Pot.

Richard Lee has been one of the state's most visible activists for 
liberalized marijuana laws, having spent $1.5 million of his own 
money supporting an ill-fated ballot initiative in 2010 to 
decriminalize recreational use. But Lee is also an entrepreneur in 
the legally cloudy arena of medical marijuana, and on Monday the 
Internal Revenue Service and the Drug Enforcement Administration 
raided his home and his hemp-related ventures, including Oaksterdam 
University, a trade school focused on the marijuana industry.

The feds haven't disclosed what they were looking for, other than to 
say the raids grew out of a federal criminal investigation. 
Nevertheless, Lee's supporters complain that the Obama administration 
isn't honoring its own policy from 2009, when a top Justice 
Department official advised U.S. attorneys not to go after 
"individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance 
with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana."

That policy doesn't seem to have much sway these days, considering 
the recent crackdowns by federal authorities on medical marijuana 
dispensaries in California and Colorado. But even if it were still in 
effect, the vagueness of state law and conflicting judicial 
interpretations make it well nigh impossible for anyone in California 
to be in clear and unambiguous compliance. That's because Proposition 
215, the 1996 measure that decriminalized the medicinal use of 
marijuana, and SB 420, the 2003 law to clarify its provisions, left 
far too many loose ends.

Foremost among these is the ability of local governments to set their 
own, specific policies on medical marijuana. Oakland has been a 
leader in that effort, adopting an ordinance regulating and taxing 
medical marijuana-related ventures. But a recent California appeals 
court ruling calls into question any city's ability to set 
restrictions of any kind on dispensaries. Another ruling held that 
dispensaries had to grow all their marijuana on site, but cities 
couldn't ban them. There are also fundamental questions about whether 
dispensaries can sell their wares, and if so, how much money they can 
make without violating SB 420's ban on profiting from the sale or 
distribution of marijuana.

State lawmakers appear to be waiting for the California Supreme Court 
to resolve the disagreements in the lower courts, which would clear 
away some of the haze. But regardless of what the justices decide, 
there will still be major issues to resolve. The Legislature should 
stop waiting and fill in the many blanks in medical marijuana laws. 
That won't resolve the basic conflict between state and federal 
governments regarding marijuana, but at least it will clarify what 
the state's policy is.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom