This week, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously agreed to shut down all 900 store fronts selling marijuana for so-called "medical" purposes." Siding with neighborhood residents and public health experts like the American Medical Association, the Council took a courageous stand against what has become a magnet for crime, nuisance, and addiction. The vote -- and the federal court ruling confirming the decision that followed just hours after -- signals the major sense of buyers' remorse Californians are feeling after voting in "medical" marijuana 16 years ago.
In 1996, when Californians passed Proposition 215 allowing for marijuana to be used for "medical" purposes, voters decided that if a cancer or AIDS patient should find relief from marijuana, they should not be arrested. Voters also believed that if the patient was too ill and unable to grow marijuana on his or her own, the patient could buy it from a non-profit group of people growing small amounts for specific users.
Fast forward 16 years and most Californians know that "medical" marijuana has become a sad joke. Scantily clad "caregivers" and a few unscrupulous "on-call" doctors line beaches and boulevards promoting marijuana use for everything from back pain to headaches. The chronically ill are hardly accessing marijuana -- a recent study found that the average Prop 215 card holder was a 32-year-old white male with no life threatening illness (instead they got pot for indications such as "relaxation") and a history of alcohol and drug use. The typical scene of a "dispensary" involves 300-pound bouncers guarding tinted doors, inside of which are 21-year-old kids giving medical advice and medicine called "Purple Haze" to anyone with a pulse. Homicides, increased youth drug use, property and neighborhood crime and advertising to kids have all become a part of doing business. Today's dispensaries -- really pot shops selling the drug under the guise of medicine -- bear little resemblance to voters' intent.
Californians have had enough. Despite the drumbeat from advocates that marijuana legalization is inevitable in the state, none of the six attempts to loosen marijuana laws statewide (some financed, interestingly, by medical marijuana millionaires) will make the ballot in 2012. For those of us that care about public health, all of this news prompts a sigh of relief.
Rev. Scott Imler, who co-wrote Proposition 215 and advocates for the limited use of medical marijuana, put it best recently when he said, "We created Prop. 215 so that patients would not have to deal with black market profiteers. But today it is all about the money. Most of the dispensaries operating in California are little more than dope dealers with store fronts."
The City Council should be commended for taking a courageous stance against these store fronts, and catching up with popular opinion. There is a way to do medical marijuana right -- through science, pharmacies, and non-smoked medications based on the marijuana plant -- but we cannot rely on marijuana advocates for that.
Follow Kevin A. Sabet, Ph.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kevinsabet