Pubdate: Thu, 05 Jul 2012
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2012 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Christopher Cadelago


Voters Backed It 16 Years Ago, but Status Remains Uncertain

Two years ago, marijuana was on the upswing in California. Medical 
marijuana proliferated from Crescent City to Imperial Beach. And 
voters appeared on the cusp of approving the nation's most sweeping 
proposal ever to legalize pot for casual use.

Now, nine months after federal prosecutors began a massive crackdown 
on storefronts and growers, the prospects have dimmed considerably 
for advocates pressing for legitimate use of the drug either for 
medical comfort or as a business - and as a tax generator.

Proponents of five separate statewide initiatives that would have 
done everything from legalize to regulate and tax marijuana failed to 
collect enough signatures to qualify for November's ballot. And 
despite urgent calls for regulations from the state attorney general 
and sympathetic lawmakers, key pieces of legislation have been 
shelved, leaving California's marijuana industry in legal limbo.

A combination of factors has contributed to the uncertainty: from 
neighborhood concerns over storefront collectives to contentions 
they're a cover for illicit drug dealing to diminished resources and 
waning political organizing among advocates in the face of the crackdown.

There also remains a glut of high-profile cases moving through the 
courts and persistent splintering within the ranks of advocates statewide.

The landscape has lacked clarity since voters approved Proposition 
215 in 1996, the first-in-the-nation ballot initiative to allow those 
with recommendations from state-licensed physicians to possess and 
cultivate marijuana for personal use. The drug continues to be 
illegal under federal law.

Alex Kreit, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San 
Diego, said he suspected the Proposition 19 legalization measure, 
which received 46 percent of the vote in 2010, contributed to some of 
the medical marijuana backlash by the federal government. What is 
needed is a statewide regulatory system, he said.

"Some aspects of medical marijuana policy, like zoning, are probably 
best suited to local control," he said. "But a wide range of issues - 
particularly regulations about labeling, training, quality of 
medicine, etc. - really should be overseen at the state level."

In the city of San Diego, medical marijuana activists failed to 
qualify a regulate-and-tax initiative for the general election 
ballot. Two groups of advocates have now set their sights on 
Encinitas, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Lemon Grove, La Mesa and Imperial Beach.

Steve DeAngelo, executive director of Harborside Health Center in 
Oakland, said it was egregious that state lawmakers have waited so 
long to act. He blamed collective directors who don't believe it's in 
their financial interests to have a regulated industry along with law 
enforcement groups that oppose virtually every effort to regulate 
storefronts and refuse to offer alternatives.

"I think it's just outrageous that the people who have responsibility 
for enforcing laws and protecting us from criminals continue to 
advocate for a completely unregulated situation that totally leaves 
it open to gangs and cartels and criminals," said DeAngelo, who runs 
the state's largest dispensary.

He also took aim at the wisdom of running Proposition 19 in 2010, 
though he supported its passage once it qualified for the ballot.

"Had we not made that strategic blunder, I think that the momentum 
would be on our side instead of the other side today," he said.

Critics of this year's proposals argued they amounted to permission 
slips for unfettered operation of medical marijuana storefronts and 
outright recreational use. The inflexibility of many dispensaries to 
compromise turned the debate away from the medical efficacy of 
marijuana to questions of neighborhood public safety and quality of 
life, said John Lovell, a lobbyist for state police chiefs and 
narcotics officers.

"I think the burden is on medical marijuana proponents, if they are 
serious about 'medical' as opposed to 'marijuana,' to develop 
something that is truly medical in nature and not a subterfuge for 
anybody who wants to get a medical marijuana card and get stoned," Lovell said.

In December, state Attorney General Kamala Harris sent letters to 
leaders of both legislative chambers urging that "state law itself 
needs to be reformed, simplified and improved to better explain to 
law enforcement and patients alike how, when and where individuals 
may cultivate and obtain physician-recommended marijuana."

When it became clear the proposed ballot initiatives would not 
qualify, advocates shifted their attention to Sacramento, 
specifically to bills by Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, 
both San Francisco Democrats.

Senate Bill 1182, which was pulled from the floor of the upper 
chamber, sought to clarify the legality of collectives and their 
right to receive compensation, provided they were organized and 
operated in compliance with the Guidelines For the Security and 
Non-Diversion of Marijuana Grown For Medical Use issued by 
then-Attorney General Jerry Brown in 2008.

Assembly Bill 2312 narrowly passed the Assembly but was held by the 
Senate Committee on Business, Professions, and Economic Development 
at Ammiano's request. It would have established an appointed Bureau 
of Medical Marijuana Enforcement to oversee marijuana businesses and 
allowed local governments to tax cannabis.

Bishop Ron Allen, president and chief executive of the International 
Faith Based Coalition, said the bill would have had the effect of 
airdropping marijuana dispensaries into poorer communities. "How can 
the youth say no when the adults around them are saying yes?" he said.

While many activists were pleased with the legislative progress, 
others complained about amendments to Ammiano's bill that lifted a 
cap on taxes local governments could charge and allowed city councils 
or boards of supervisors to pass bans on their own, which officials 
have done in nearly 200 jurisdictions.

The legality of such bans is in question. On Monday, a state 
appellate court held that Los Angeles County's "complete ban" on 
medical marijuana conflicts with, and thus is pre-empted by, state 
medical marijuana laws. The decision comes after the California 
Supreme Court granted review of other state appeals court rulings 
relating to dispensaries in Riverside and Long Beach.

Don Duncan, a Los Angeles resident who is state director of Americans 
for Safe Access, said he hoped the federal government would not use 
the legal uncertainty and legislative setbacks as a cue to expand its 

Since October, the four U.S. attorneys in California have mailed 
hundreds of letters to landlords urging them to shut down 
dispensaries and grows. Three of the districts, including the San 
Diego region, received more than 90 percent compliance, filed fewer 
than 20 asset forfeiture complaints and settled a handful of the 
cases. Aides for the prosecutors reported closing down more than 500 
dispensaries, including 217 in San Diego and Imperial counties.

Officials in the northern district, home to raids on some of the most 
well-known and politically connected dispensaries, declined to provide figures.

DeAngelo, who is locked in his own legal battle with the Internal 
Revenue Service, said the list of raids "reads like an honor role of 
the very best people - the most legitimate and politically active." 
Among those was Oaksterdam University, a marijuana training school 
founded by Richard Lee, who poured more than $1 million into 
Proposition 19. Lee's home, dispensary and a museum connected with 
the Oakland school were also raided.

Dale Sky Jones, executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University, said 
the school is up and running and the museum is being relocated. She 
said Lee, who is now retired, didn't have the luxury of waiting until 
this year to fund an initiative campaign.

"Proposition 19 brought a lot of pressure on both localities and the 
Legislature to do something," she said. "In fact, many localities 
were looking to regulate when the federal government threw their ice 
bath on the industry."

Observers are now turning their attention to legalization initiatives 
in Colorado and Washington. It remains to be seen whether local 
activists will marshal the political forces needed, said Allen St. 
Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the 
Reform of Marijuana Laws.

"In many ways, we remain divided between medical folks who don't want 
legalization and others who believe it's the road to legitimacy."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom