In an effort to clear the haze around the murky medical marijuana situation in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday issued what many are hailing as a huge loosening of the ropes on the 14 states with medical marijuana clinics.
Deputy Attorney General David W. Ogden issued a memo with the guidelines in it the same day, and that memo can be found here . The gist of it is that if people are following the guidelines set out by the state then they, and their coops or dispensaries, won't be prosecuted under any federal drug laws. Both Ogden and Holder made it clear that anyone using these laws as a front will still be punished.
While this is meant to change the tone towards users of medicinal cannabis and stop prosecutions that were regular under the Bush administration, the fact is, that this is does little to clarify or even ease the plight of those in the medical marijuana system.
Los Angeles is a fine case in point. As Holder and Ogden issue this memo, the District Attorney of Los Angeles is gearing up for a multi-million dollar offensive (in a broke city and state) against the very clinics he promised looser enforcement and more cooperation with during the campaign. Thursday, October 15, 2009 Steve Cooley intimated that he plans on policing or closing down some or all of the now 800 dispensaries operating in Los Angeles County.
"All those who are operating illegally, our advice to them is to shut down voluntarily and they won't be subject to prosecution," Cooley told The Associated Press on Wednesday, October 14, 2009.
Cooley's contention is that selling pot for profit, and over the counter, is a violation of Prop. 215, the law that legalized in California. He contends that dispensaries are supposed to grow the pot for their members, members pay the cost of the growing and such and then they medicate. It would be a realistic system if California were living in the communal phase of the late 1960s, but it doesn't work in the real world. Asking cancer patients to garden, or anyone to cultivate their own drugs, is absurd.
Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University in Oakland (the first University set up to teach the proper way to use, grow, and sell cannabis) and long time legalization advocate thinks Cooley is misguided at best.
"I think Cooley is out of touch with reality," Lee commented on my syndicated radio show Thursday, October 15th. "The voters made it clear they wanted patients to have access and in his view all sales of marijuana are illegal. It appears he wants the co-op members to participate in the growing of their medicine and then just all share it. It's like asking you to go make your antibiotics or opiates at the pharmacy," he added.
Lee is hopeful about Obama's administration, but not sold yet.
"They keep saying one thing, and yet they are still prosecuting and busting people today, right now," he continued. "People that were busted under the Bush administration are still being prosecuted as we speak. We need to put more pressure to rectify that."
Lee has been a huge advocate for medicinal marijuana and many times those advocates don't enter the full legalization arena, as not to confuse the two issues. Not Lee.
"We need to legalize now, for the very reasons we're discussing," he continued. "Some law enforcement will just never accept medical marijuana. They play doctor. You're not sick enough, they then pick and choose who they think should and should not be allowed. Plus, cities are in the red, and we are wasting money trying to support these old laws, but we should be taking in money instead of wasting it on useless enforcement. Also, the biggest crime is we make a crime out of something that shouldn't be, and then people lose respect for the law and law enforcement, and that is a terrible side effect of all of this," he concluded.
The economics of legalization aren't escaping anyone these days, even conservatives. Lee is confident now is the time in California.
"Our initiative is on the way," Lee stated. "We've collected over 250,000 signatures, have already raised over one million dollars for the campaign. On the web at Tax Cannabus 2010 we explain how we want to do two things. First, you can possess one ounce and grow 25 square foot of plants for personal use, not sale. The, cities and counties can tax and grow commercially under their own guidelines, just like alcohol. There's dry counties and cities, and there would be here, too. It's a revenue generating situation that helps all concerned," he added.
But until full legalization is voted on in California, or any of the other 13 states where the medical marijuana industry is flourishing, there's more grey areas than clarity and Holder's proclamation doesn't do much to clear that air.
If Cooley begins busting clinics in Los Angeles, the results could be devastating to the patients and the economy. 800 dispensaries mean 800 tenants for 800 landlords of commercial space. It means at least two employees, many four to six, or 3500 plus employees. Dispensaries have taken to advertising in weekly magazines like OC Weekly in Orange County, District Magazine in Long Beach, LA Weekly and countless others in the various states and are the life's blood now in a down advertising market. Get rid of the dispensaries, and it's feasible that some weekly newspapers will fold.
In other words, millions of dollars and jobs would be lost because of an over zealous District Attorney who neither has the mandate of the people of the city of Los Angeles, nor the people of the State of California in this matter but feels compelled nonetheless to press on with prosecuting dispensaries instead of working with them. Each of them, as he, are swimming through the murky waters of the grey area known as medicinal marijuana and until clearer guidelines or full legalization happens, busting the clinics serves no purpose whatsoever on the surface. Crime is not soaring around these dispensaries, there's been no survey or credible evidence that pot usage has soared in Los Angeles county or any other state or county where it's legal for medicinal purposes. So where's the public good?
Obama, and the democrats, are being spineless, yet again. It's time the President and his cabinet bring America around to the notion of a repeal of the pot prohibition and we, as a nation, start reaping the benefits of the crop and take away the financial support for drug cartels. Massachusetts is looking at legalization, full, many states are looking at decriminalization (Aspen has it on the ballot to legalize an ounce and Colorado has over 100 dispensaries), Oregon has a bill to legalize next year and an initiative as well. Pot is, and should, go the way of alcohol when it comes to prohibition.
Yet, Cooley gears up new narcotics officers for costly raids no one wants while Obama sends yet another message to leave dispensaries alone in one breath but that drugs are still bad in the other.
"The only way now is full legalization, to clear the disputes," Lee concluded. "Because what happens in four years or eight years, if conservatives take over again on the Federal Level? Or state? Should access to medications and the enforcement around it be left to political leanings? And even if it's just looked on as recreational, as alcohol is. Prohibition isn't challenged by every administration that disagrees with drinking. Bush had no alcohol in the White House, but didn't make the U.S. become a dry country or force it back underground. It makes the most sense for America," he finished.
To hear more of this interview with Richard Lee go to Radio KRL.com for the podcast.