Pubdate: Sun, 26 Jan 2014
Source: Merced Sun-Star (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Merced Sun-Star
Author: Peter Hecht


In 2010, as Colorado lawmakers were creating America's first 
state-licensed and regulated medical marijuana industry, fellow 
police officers at a Colorado Drug Investigators Association 
conference jeered a state law enforcement official assigned to draft 
the legislation.

Some of the sharpest barbs came from visiting narcotics officers from 

"I was told that we hadn't learned anything from California  that you 
can't do anything to regulate marijuana," said Matt Cook, a retired 
Colorado Springs police officer who became the first director of 
Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division, a policing agency that now 
regulates state-licensed marijuana workers, pot stores and commercial 
cannabis producers.

While Colorado moved forward with pot industry oversight, the 
narcotics officers who berated Cook were right  at least about 
California, where trying to regulate America's largest marijuana 
economy has become a perennial political loser. A key factor has been 
intense law enforcement opposition itself.

In California, police have forcefully opposed any legislation seen as 
legitimizing a marijuana industry. Their opposition reflects a belief 
by many police officers that medical marijuana businesses are 
profiteering shams that were never authorized by California voters.

Training seminars offered for police by the California Narcotic 
Officers' Association suggest there is no such thing as medical 
marijuana and that state voters were hoodwinked into approving its 
use so people could legally get stoned.

"The general feeling in the law enforcement community is that 
California's medical marijuana law is a giant con job," said John 
Lovell, a lobbyist for narcotics officers, police chiefs and 
correctional supervisors. Lovell has led opposition to medical 
marijuana regulations, saying existing dispensaries in California are 
"a corrosive presence in the community" and authorities are unwilling 
to legitimize "free-standing pot shops" that he says attract crime 
and expand neighborhood availability of marijuana.

A California Police Chiefs Association's "white paper" on marijuana 
business, depicting "storefront dispensaries as a cover for selling 
an illegal substance," is cited by lawmakers opposing pot legislation 
and by officials approving local bans on medical marijuana stores.

"Most police chiefs in California understand the voters' intent with 
Proposition 215," the state's 1996 medical marijuana initiative, "but 
what has actually happened in California is fraudulent," said Covina 
Police Chief Kim Raney, president of the state chiefs association. 
"In no place that I've read in the law does it authorize or 
legitimize dispensaries that morphed into over-the-counter retail outlets."

California, America's first state to legalize marijuana for medical 
use, has birthed a billion-dollar industry of hundreds of marijuana 
dispensaries handling millions of dollars in cash and vast quantities 
of pot with little oversight.

In Colorado, where pot retailers this month began voter-approved 
sales of recreational marijuana, the state meticulously tags 
marijuana plants, inspects dispensary books and requires video 
surveillance of regulated pot deliveries and sales. In Washington 
state, where voters also legalized recreational use, new regulations 
seek to prevent diversion of marijuana from state-licensed marijuana 
stores to the black market.

Amid opposition from police, marijuana industry regulation bills died 
in the California Legislature in 2012 and 2013.

The last failed attempt came in the closing days of last year's 
legislative session, after an Aug. 29 U.S. Justice Department memo 
declared that federal authorities were less likely to bring marijuana 
prosecutions in states that have legalized medical or recreational 
marijuana while also implementing "strong and effective regulatory 
and enforcement systems" for pot businesses.

"There are definitely forces and law enforcement pressures to not 
vote on marijuana regulation," said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San 
Francisco, who co-sponsored unsuccessful legislation last year to put 
the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in charge of 
licensing and regulating commercial medical marijuana growers, 
shippers and sellers.

With California marijuana advocates plotting 2014 or 2016 ballot 
measures to legalize recreational marijuana use, Ammiano said he will 
introduce a new pot regulation bill this year. Its passage is 
considered a long shot.

Support for medical uses

The pot regulatory stalemate in California stands in contrast to the 
state's history as the birthplace of the modern medical marijuana 
movement. During the 1980s and 1990s AIDS crisis in San Francisco, 
infected gay men suffering severe weight loss turned to smoking 
marijuana to ease nausea and boost appetites.

In 1999, the Legislature allocated $8.7 million for the nation's 
first sustained modern medical research for pot. After seven 
completed clinical trials involving 300 subjects between 2002 and 
2012, University of California researchers concluded that marijuana 
was a promising therapy for pain from nerve damage from injuries, 
HIV, diabetes, strokes and other conditions. They called for 
additional studies.

But instructional materials for a certified police officer training 
program offered by the California Narcotic Officers' Association 
declare that "this 'medical marijuana thing' " is "an epidemic that 
is infecting our society."

"I put 'medical marijuana' in quotes because technically there is no 
such thing," wrote Seth Cimino, a Del Norte County sheriff's deputy, 
in materials for a 2012 training seminar he taught in Redding called, 
"Medical Marijuana from the Streets to Dispensaries." The program 
offered officers, paying $35 to $45 for the session, "training ... to 
make your arrests stick" in medical marijuana cases.

The state narcotics officers' association also manages a Santa 
Clarita-based organization, the Narcotic Educational Foundation of 
America, that produces materials that warn of a "well-financed and 
organized pro-drug legalization lobby" promoting medical marijuana as 
a gateway to unbridled pot legalization. The group's report warns of 
dangerous health consequences, including cognitive damage, from 
legalizing "crude, intoxicating marijuana."

Diane Goldstein, a former lieutenant for the Redondo Beach Police 
Department, said anti-marijuana training is a major factor in 
political resistance to any legislation seen as pro-pot.

"When California police officers continue to support training that 
says there is no such thing as medical marijuana, they are 
deliberately undermining not just policy and law but science," said 
Goldstein, a member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an 
advocacy group of mostly retired police officers who support 
marijuana legalization and a taxed and regulated pot industry.

Lovell said law enforcement officials are sympathetic to seriously 
ill people who use marijuana for symptom relief. But he said police 
are turned off by streams of seemingly fit young people frequenting 
dispensaries with easily obtained medical marijuana recommendations.

Lovell said he would prefer regulations that would require a bona 
fide doctor-patient relationship for marijuana recommendations and 
put public health officials  not retail-style dispensaries  in charge 
of dispensing medical cannabis.

Vague laws and revenue

Steve Walter, an assistant district attorney and narcotics prosecutor 
in San Diego County, said many in law enforcement are frustrated that 
dispensaries flourished under vague California medical marijuana laws 
that merely state that patients with doctors' recommendations can 
collectively cultivate and share marijuana.

San Diego authorities take the view that marijuana dispensaries are 
illegal and have aggressively prosecuted them. But Walter concedes 
other jurisdictions have different interpretations. He said some 
legislative clarity would help.

"I can't imagine that, if you're going to have this industry or some 
semblance of it, you wouldn't want to have some regulations," he said.

Marijuana advocates charge that police are unwilling to support state 
rules because they are too invested in pot policing through drug 
enforcement grants and revenue from seized houses, cars and property 
in marijuana prosecutions.

Matt Kumin, a San Francisco attorney specializing in medical 
marijuana cases, said police have come to rely on marijuana 
enforcement to produce funding for their budgets. He said 
authorities, who have "always been taught this is evil weed," resent 
marijuana legalization because "people who were their enemies are 
going to be part of the community."

This month, The Wall Street Journal reported that police in 
Washington were taking budget hits as a result of voters there 
approving marijuana for recreational use. The newspaper reported that 
some police drug task forces lost 15 percent of funding due to 
decreased revenue from marijuana forfeiture cases.

The Journal's analysis of U.S. Justice Department data said 
California took in $181.4 million in revenue from seized property and 
money in marijuana cases from 2002 to 2012, followed by New York at 
$101.3 million.

Disputing marijuana advocates' contention of a financial incentive 
for police, Chief Raney noted that California has already widely 
decriminalized marijuana possession, most recently when Gov. Arnold 
Schwarzenegger signed legislation in 2010 reducing marijuana 
misdemeanors to noncriminal citations.

Raney said he wants to preserve rights of local communities to 
restrict marijuana businesses and ensure the availability of pot 
"isn't going to filter down to our youth." He charges that cannabis 
advocates are unwilling to consider law enforcement's concerns.

"I have not found those people credible to sit and talk with," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom