December 22, 2011

California Attorney General Asks Legislature To Clarify Medical Marijuana Law

December 22, 2011
California Kamala Harris
California Attorney General Kamala Harris
California Attorney General Kamala Harris

By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town

California Attorney General Kamala Harris on Wednesday urged state lawmakers to get serious about clarifying the state’s 15-year-old medical marijuana law, saying gray areas have left law enforcement and patients in a state of uncertainty.

Harris, who was elected with backing from the state’s medical marijuana industry (OK, it wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, it was more a case of “Anybody But Cooley“), has been under pressure to defend the state’s medicinal cannabis law since October, when the state’s four U.S. Attorneys announced a coordinated crackdown on dispensaries.

Dozens of the shops — which the federal prosecutors claimed were fronts for public drug dealing — have since closed, reports Lisa Leff at the Associated Press.

In a letter to the leaders of the Legislature, Harris said California needs to decide if, in fact, the hundreds of storefront dispensaries and delivery services that sell cannabis are legal, or of the only lawful way to obtain marijuana is through patient collectives in which all members jointly grow their supply.

“Without a substantive change to existing law, these irreconcilable interpretations of the law, and the resulting uncertainty for law enforcement and seriously ill patients, will persist,” she wrote in the letter to Senate President Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez.

Harris also sent a separate letter Wednesday to the U.S. Attorneys advising them of her requests to the Legislature. To her credit, the Attorney General asked the federal prosecutors to focus on human trafficking and international gangs instead of California residents who are trying to comply with the state’s medical marijuana laws.

“The federal government is ill-equipped to be the sole arbiter of whether an individual or group is acting within the bounds of California’s medical marijuana laws when cultivating marijuana for medical purposes,” Harris wrote to the federal prosecutors.

Harris is empowered under the medical marijuana law as California’s top law enforcement to issue guidelines on what patients need to do to avoid arrest. Her office spent much of this year preparing to revise the guidelines issued by then-Attorney General, now Gov. Jerry Brown in 2008.

But in the letters she sent Wednesday, Harris concluded after talking with city and county governments, law enforcement and the medical marijuana community that it is up to the Legislature to clarify the law, because any directives she issued would by definition lack the force of law.

“The facts today are far more complicated that was the case in 2008,” Harris said in her letter to Steinberg and Perez. “I have come to recognize that non-binding guidelines will not solve our problems — state law itself needs to be reformed, simplified and improved to better explain to law enforcement and patients alike how, when and where individuals may cultivate and obtain physician-recommended marijuana.”

According to Brown’s 2008 guidelines, medical marijuana dispensaries are only legal in California if they are set up as nonprofit cooperatives or collectives. Under those rules, anyone running for-profit pot shops can be arrested and prosecuted by local authorities.

Among the other issues Harris would like to see clarified, in addition to whether dispensaries are legal and if they need to be nonprofits, is how pot-infused edibles should be regulated. Under current law, companies and individuals that furnish edible forms of cannabis to dispensaries “may be engaged in the illegal sale and distribution of marijuana,” she said.

The Legislature may have a certain lack of enthusiasm for tackling the thorny subject of medical marijuana again. Earlier this year, two cannabis-related bills — one that prohibited employers from discriminating against medical marijuana patients, and another that would have made growing marijuana a misdemeanor — did not get anywhere.

Article From Toke of the Town and republished with special permission.


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