Marijuana Patients Offer L.A. a Compassionate Alternative to Banning Dispensaries

The Pack v. City of Long Beach decision (now up for review) ruled that medical marijuana programs are vulnerable to federal intervention, and declared cities legally able to ban medical pot.  In response, L.A. City Councilman Jose Huizar led the initiative to ban all medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, while still allowing patients to grow their own. But medical marijuana patients are not pleased with the idea, and announced their own alternative strategies on Tuesday .

The ban would cut off access to many legitimate marijuana patients, who are not,  as many speculate, using medical pot programs for recreation. The  Sacramento Bee reported:

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.

Forcing patients to grow legally in their homes, potentially attracting robberies, condemns them to what can be very frustrating work. California's dry climate makes growing a very complicated process, and may even push patients to the black market.

Instead of an outright ban, the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients has two less draconian ideas:

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 that 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.

James Shaw, director of the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, told the Bee:

"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."

L.A.'s medical marijuana patients say banning dispensaries would be a disaster for the city, and would chip away at the progress medical legalization facilitated. The City Council will likely vote on the ban this February. 

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at January 31, 2012, 9:55am