Pubdate: Sat, 22 Jul 2017
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2017 Los Angeles Times



Los Angeles voters want to legalize marijuana, and they don't seem
particularly concerned that it remains illegal under federal law. In
November nearly two out of three voters in the city of L.A. supported
Proposition 64, a statewide initiative to let adults grow, buy and use
recreational marijuana. A few months later, voters overwhelmingly
backed Measure M to create a city permitting system for marijuana 

City Hall has a clear mandate to legalize, regulate and tax pot.

But it's not doing that.

Instead the regulations proposed last month would keep marijuana
businesses illegal in L.A. -- but then offer them "limited immunity"
from criminal prosecution if they comply with city and state

No other city or state chooses to regulate marijuana businesses in
this way.

Sound familiar? This hazy limited immunity rule has been in place for
the last four years, ever since voters approved Proposition D in 2013
to try to cap the number of medical marijuana shops operating in L.A.
The city's attorneys recommended limited immunity because they were
concerned that the city or its employees could be prosecuted for
granting a permit to a marijuana business, given that the drug remains
illegal under federal law.

Proposition D has been a spectacular failure. While some 135 medical
pot shops have limited immunity and are "allowed" to sell their wares,
there may be more than 1,000 pot shops and illegal delivery businesses
in the city. The black market thrives.

Proposition 64 and Measure M are supposed to reduce the black market.
In fact, that's the main reason Proposition 64 garnered such wide
support -- with pot already widely available in California, it would
be better for public health, for law and order and for society if
marijuana were a legal, regulated and controlled product for adults.

But L.A.'s proposal would work against that goal by creating a
quasi-legal system that does not encourage businesses to leave the
black market. Marijuana growers, distributors or sellers would not be
granted a permit, license or any sort of definitive permission to
conduct business in L.A. Instead, they would get a "certificate of
compliance" that may or may not be sufficient to qualify for a state
license. Industry experts say no other city or state chooses to
regulate marijuana businesses in this way.

The proposal would, in effect, create a new class of businesses with
lesser protections than other businesses. If, for example, the corner
bar is accused of violating its license by staying open too late or
serving alcohol to minors, the city or licensing agency typically
files an administrative complaint and must provide evidence of the
violation. Limited immunity flips due process and the burden of proof
on their heads. If a marijuana business is accused of breaking the
rules, the city attorney can file a criminal complaint, and it's up
the pot shop to prove it was in compliance with every single
regulation at all times.

You might ask, "What's the big deal?" Marijuana is still illegal under
federal law, so why shouldn't cannabis businesses be held to a higher
standard than other businesses?

Because the residents of Los Angeles, in their wisdom, have decided
they want legal marijuana and have voted for it -- repeatedly. And
there's just not that much to be gained with the "limited immunity"
charade. Yes, there's a fundamental conflict between California and
federal law, and eventually that will have to be worked out in the
courts or Congress. Ideally, federal officials would start by removing
marijuana from the list of Schedule 1 drugs, like heroin, that are
highly addictive and have no medical value. But the federal government
has proven incapable of having a rationale conversation on drug policy.

In the meantime, though, Los Angeles might as well take a page from
all the other California jurisdictions and other marijuana-legal
states and offer intelligible, fair guidance to marijuana businesses
and users -- guidance that makes it clear what they can and can't do,
and where they can and cannot set up shop. To write the law in a
too-clever-by-half way in the hope of fooling the courts into thinking
that maybe we weren't really legalizing marijuana when we effectively
were is not going to help us move toward clarity or lucidity.

Of course, we have a new president, along with a new attorney general
who has said marijuana is dangerous and shouldn't be legalized. L.A.
leaders' caution is understandable, but it's counterproductive and may
be unnecessary. To address its liability concerns, the city should
first try requiring marijuana businesses to hold it harmless in the
event of a federal crackdown. The best way to stay out of the federal
government's cross hairs is for the city to license legitimate
operators, regulate the industry and get tough on the scofflaws.
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