California’s Medical Marijuana Battles are a Lesson for Michigan


LOS ANGELES — With a 13-year head start on Michigan, California’s efforts to transform marijuana from illicit to prescription drug offers a clear lesson: It ain’t easy.

The conflict has flared in recent weeks with a new Los Angeles ordinance aimed at hundreds of marijuana dispensaries, many that operate more like drug dens than pharmacies. Michigan prohibits dispensaries under its 2008 voter-passed law, but communities are struggling with limits on the medical pot business.

The Los Angeles ordinance would cap dispensaries in the city at 70 with 186 grandfathered in. All must follow tough rules such as observing a 1,000-foot buffer from churches and schools.

Distribution isn’t the only concern. In Los Angeles County, safety concerns have risen with authorities pursuing charges against sellers whose pot had high pesticide levels.

“It’s been pretty tough since everyone’s been getting shut down,” said Bob Nelson, 58, who uses pot for back pain — one of about 300,000 Californians who find relief they don’t get from other drugs.

“I don’t know where to go next.”

Laws try to weed out rule-breakers
In the upscale neighborhood where Beverly Hills meets L.A., Aaron Bullock does not enjoy having his enterprise lumped in with the “party stores.”

Bullock, a nutritionist by training, started treating patients with medicinal marijuana two years ago from the Farmacopeia Organica dispensary that he co-owns.

Skeptical of the benefits at first, he now treats about 1,000 patients for ailments from Crohn’s disease to cancer. Many of his customers are referrals from doctor’s offices next door.

He says he welcomes the city’s new curbs on the business of medical marijuana.

“There are too many stores,” he said. “There are too many in places that if I were a homeowner, they would bother me.”

But the city’s new limits, if they take effect as written, would force Bullock to move or close, as his business is next door to a doctor’s office and shares an alleyway with homes — two places dispensaries could no longer be.

California was the first state to allow medical pot in 1996, but it didn’t flourish as a business until the state Legislature clarified the law in 2003. (That was before Michigan voters passed a new law in 2008 permitting use of marijuana for treating pain.)

In 2004, several California cities, mainly near San Francisco, began passing laws to regulate it.

Last year, the Obama administration gave the nascent industry a boost when it said it would not raid growers or dispensaries that comply with state statutes, following some 200 raids during the Bush administration.

Medical pot expo
Welcome to HempCon!

Held last month in L.A.’s cavernous convention center, the event billed itself as the state’s largest convention ever for medicinal marijuana users and pharmacies.

The scene was, well, far out, man.

At one paraphernalia stand, a television played Cheech & Chong’s signature pot culture flick, “Up in Smoke.”

Mixed in among stands offering ornate glass bongs were lawyers and advocacy groups collecting petitions. A few tattoo artists advertised their work alongside guys in polos and khakis selling armored awnings and safes typically found only at jewelers.

While show-goers could inspect a semi trailer-size lab for hydroponic marijuana growing, organizers warned against on-site pot use with posted signs vowing cooperation with the police.

While taking marijuana as medicine in California is legal, it’s still illegal to openly sell the stuff — as it is in Michigan. Under the letter of the law, patients and caregivers must take some part in growing marijuana for their own use, typically by forming a nonprofit cooperative. That cooperative can grow its own or buy from a supplier — who follows the law by also joining the cooperative.
Regulate but don’t ban

The blossoming industry still faces strong opposition, and 150 cities have banned dispensaries outright. L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and other law enforcement officials have overseen raids on local dispensaries, saying they violated not just state laws on medical marijuana but others, including having marijuana with high levels of pesticides.

“If pharmacies were found to be distributing aspirin contaminated with pesticides, how long would any bottles of that particular brand remain on store shelves?” Trutanich wrote in an opinion piece last week for the Daily News of Los Angeles. “Not very long because the public would demand that the law be immediately enforced. Why should medical marijuana be subjected to any less of a consumer safety standard — especially in light of the advocates’ argument that it is a medicine?”

Advocates of medical marijuana have accused Trutanich and others of blocking the needs of thousands of patients. One group, Americans for Safe Access, filed suit over the city ordinance last week, and spokesman Kris Hermes said the city needs to offer a way for dispensaries to do business.

“There are ways for local governments to regulate this activity without establishing a de facto ban,” Hermes said.

Bullock and others say without better oversight of how marijuana is grown, street-level pot delivered by criminal enterprises without safety standards will survive. Cities could boost their revenue by taxing and licensing legitimate growers, he said.

“I’ve seen a great number of people who’ve done well with medicinal cannabis,” he said. “Doctors send patients because I treat them well. The more I see, the more I believe it matters.” Source.


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