Pubdate: Wed, 23 May 2012
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2012 SF Newspaper Company LLC


The legal status of medical marijuana is an ongoing puzzle. In 1996,
California voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized the
cultivation of medical pot by people suffering from medical ailments
or their caregivers. But marijuana, legal or otherwise, is still
considered illegal under federal law. As a result, federal law
enforcement officials have conducted a disturbing number of raids of
medical pot dispensaries around the state, arresting people and
subjecting them to onerous penalties.

The unnecessary federal raids are entirely due to the obstinacy and
rigidity of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, as well as the
willingness of the Obama administration to let these pointless raids
go on. But the state of California shares some of the blame by
enacting such a poorly written law.

Prop. 215 merely gave the right to grow or distribute medical
marijuana to those patients - or their caregivers - who have been
certified by a doctor as suffering from one of a wide variety of
health problems. The law did next to nothing to regulate what has
become a multimillion-dollar industry.

As a result, marijuana dispensaries have popped up all over the state,
with no oversight from the state. Municipal governments have been
forced to deal with such headaches as blight, criminality and
organized crime. The legal and social chaos has helped federal
officials make the case that marijuana is not an effective medicine,
but a pernicious drug that degrades neighborhoods and hurts human beings.

That's why we support Assembly Bill 2312, the most comprehensive state
proposal to regulate the medical marijuana industry. Introduced by
state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, the bill would limit
the number of dispensaries in any given city to one for every 50,000
people. In addition, the bill would create a state licensing board,
known as the Board of Medical Marijuana Enforcement. The board would
be empowered to craft rules governing the sale, cultivation and
distribution of medical pot, and would review all applicants for
dispensary licenses.

This will be an important step forward in the medical marijuana
industry. Prop. 215 unleashed an army of less-than-reputable
characters on cities and counties across the state - drug dealers in
all but name who used Prop. 215 as a fig leaf to cover their unsavory
businesses. Cities have used the tools available to them, such as
zoning laws, to rein in such establishments, but they shouldn't have
had to. Under Ammiano's bill, the state would take control of this
potentially dangerous industry.

Moreover, AB 2312 will clarify certain elements that were left out of
the original law. Prop. 215 does not explicitly legalize the sale of
medical marijuana, and many California cities have seized on this to
crack down on medical dispensaries. This new law will close the
loophole that has been seized on by the feds.

None of this will necessarily stop federal officials from raiding pot
dispensaries and hauling people off to jail. But the fight to legalize
medical marijuana is a marathon, not a sprint. Regulating the industry
- - and weeding out the worst of its entrepreneurs - will help in the
ultimate goal of repealing federal laws against medical marijuana. The
next step is passage of Ammiano's bill and a signature from Gov. Jerry
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