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James Shaw, director of the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, announced that the Union has provided the members of the Los Angeles City Council and City Attorney two motions to regulate medical cannabis dispensaries as an alternative to the City Attorney draconian solution to the city council’s concerns (the initial drafts are posted at www.Unionmmp.org).
“We have had extensive meetings with the council staff over the past two months and heard their concerns about neighborhood complaints about some dispensaries,” said Shaw. “At the same time, we argued that a total ban on patient associations and their dispensaries would have a significant downside.”
There are an estimated quarter million medical marijuana patients in the city using this for problems as varied as cancer and AIDS pain, multiple sclerosis, insomnia, and depression. A University of California Santa Cruz study found that 80 percent of medical cannabis users preferred this to the ineffectiveness and side effects of prescription drugs for the same ailments.
There is no data on how many patients are also recreational users, but since marijuana is inexpensive and widely available on the black market in Los Angeles, it seems unlikely that a large percentage of patients are purely recreational users, despite the assertions of critics of medical marijuana.
“What this means is that if the city bans dispensaries that all these patients will be forced to take the six plants they are legally entitled to grow to their homes, creating mini-marijuana farms, and their associated dispensaries in every neighborhood in the city, each of which will potentially attract robberies,” said Shaw. “This would be a disaster after all the progress made in recent years in reducing violent crime.”
Many patients will find the attempt to grow marijuana very frustrating and expensive, since it is a complicated process in the dry climate of Southern California, requiring a great deal of water and electricity, he pointed out. The result: many patients will be forced back to the black market.
The city attorney has not addressed the fact that closing 350 dispensaries and dispersing the plants will have an undetermined impact on the environment. “In October, we filed a lawsuit because the original medical cannabis ordinance did not come with a study required by the California Environmental Quality Act assessing its impact on things like traffic, water usage, and pollution concentrated in neighborhoods where the 70-100 mega-dispensaries would be as envisioned by the ordinance,” said Shaw.
“The city attorney never provided a serious answer, and the lawsuit is ongoing. He now proposes to deal with this and the more than 60 lawsuits about other aspects of his fatally-flawed ordinance by banning dispensaries entirely. But in his proposal for the ban, he fails to recognize that dispersing up to 1.5 million plants and associated dispensaries into every neighborhood creates an environmental impact that needs to be assessed.”
The Union has proposed two motions for the city council to consider. The first, “public nuisance abatement,” proposes that city officials start enforcing current laws to deal with complaints like loitering and sales to minors, just as the police handle such problems around liquor stores.
There has been little effort to do this, Shaw said, which is why neighbors of dispensaries sometimes complain. The city would then wait until the state Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of a ban and on the extent to which it can regulate without being accused of “authorizing” a substance that is on the U.S. government’s Schedule I of Controlled Substances (cocaine is on the less serious Schedule II). This would avoid further expensive litigation.
The second motion calls for a “ban with abeyance”, or a soft ban, which would create a ban that allows patient associations to prove that they are operating in compliance with local and state law, allowing the ban to be held in abeyance as long as they continue to be in compliance. This would provide due process and have none of the negatives of the proposed total ban, while giving patients safe access to their medicine.
“Our attorneys have determined that this would be a way of having strict regulation without issuing permits, which are considered ‘authorization and forbidden by federal preemption,’ if the so-called Pack decision is upheld by the state Supreme Court,” said Shaw.
“We have provided the Council with the rewording for the ordinance to be able to implement this, and we have recommended third party verification an option that would provide law enforcement the information it needs, while protecting patient privacy and Fifth Amendment rights, neither of which is addressed in the original ordinance.”
The Union welcomes debate on these and other motions and believes a rush to a total ban would be a disaster for the city, the police, neighborhoods, patient associations, and medical cannabis patients.