Pro-Dispensary Op-Ed Published In The L.A. Daily News


I wanna thank our friends at Kushsmoke for bringing this to our attention:

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James Shaw, director of The Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, wrote this stellar piece that was published in the LA Daily News. Shaw’s commentary and points are all spot and accurate—it’s a focused, concise, and as good an argument for medical cannabis that you’ll ever read. Here is the piece, in full:

Why a Ban on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Los Angeles is a Bad Idea

A ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in the City of Los Angeles has been proposed to the City Council, based on arguments put forth by the City Attorney’s office. The Union of Medical Marijuana Patients warned the City Council two years ago that the City Attorney had provided fatally-flawed advice on the then-new ordinance and, indeed, Superior Court Judge Anthony Mohr ordered it to be amended several times before he ruled in its favor last October. Now, we’re asking the Council to be very skeptical about the advice that there is no problem with banning dispensaries.

Let’s start with the fact the assertion by the City Attorney that the recent Pack v. Long Beach decision by the 2nd District Court of Appeals, while a city can ban marijuana outlets, it can’t regulate them. What Pack actually says it that cities can’t use permits or licenses to regulate marijuana collectives, because that would authorize them in direct opposition to federal law, but cities can use zoning and other restrictions and the normal police powers they have for abating public nuisances. The Union has proposed a system of regulating at arm’s length through independent third-party verification that would accomplish the purposes of permitting without permitting and also avoid further litigation over patient privacy and Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

Complaints about dispensaries mostly are about public nuisances like loitering and excessive traffic. You would get the impression from the City Attorney that they are magnets for violent crime, but in fact, L.A. police chief Charlie Beck did a study that showed medical cannabis dispensaries were a quarter as likely as banks to be robbed and caused no significant uptick in crime.

One City Council member, speaking in support of the ban, stated that he had heard there were more medical marijuana dispensaries than ice cream parlors. The more relevant comparison is with places selling liquor: there are 3,400 alcohol licenses in Los Angeles and they are frequent targets, and demonstrably causes of, crime, yet no one is talking about banning alcohol sales.

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There are complaints about illegal secondary sales to minors near some dispensaries. The problem could be alleviated simply by enforcing the law, as is done with sales to minors near liquor stores. Proponents of the ban apparently think that by eliminating dispensaries, either teens will suddenly stop smoking weed altogether or it believes it would be an improvement if they bought it directly from drug dealers.

The tragic irony of a ban is that city officials promoting this haven’t thought about what the unintended consequences would be. Ban proponents argue that patients would still be allowed to grow their own, but what this would actually mean is that the estimated quarter million medical cannabis users in L.A. would need to bring their legally-allowed 1.5 million plants home. They might legally then form neighborhood patient associations, so instead of 350 dispensaries, the city would have thousands of smaller pot farms doing collective cultivating. Marijuana has a distinctive smell , neighbors would talk, and these homes would become targets for robbery.

But marijuana is actually very difficult to grow in the local climate. That would mean many patients would get frustrated and go back to the black market. Which proponents of a ban are ready to accept responsibility for a dramatic increase in violent crime and neighborhood complaints?

The real reason the City Attorney wants to ban dispensaries is not because he believes there is a lot of crime around them, that the police can’t handle quality of life problems, or that Pack forbids the cities from being able to regulate. The real reason was revealed recently by the City Attorney’s office: it has spent millions of dollars in 66 lawsuits that it now wants to dump, which it can only do if it the city puts a ban in place.

Yes, dealing with legitimate legal challenges is very inconvenient and expensive for all sides, but this is a self-inflicted wound and the amount that will be spent on these lawsuits going forward is likely to be modest in comparison. Furthermore, despite the assertions by the City Attorney to the contrary, no final state court decision has been made about the legality of a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, which means this action will be litigated.

Those who would be most hurt by a ban on medical cannabis dispensaries would, of course, be the legitimate patients. Those who assert that dispensaries are mainly selling marijuana to people who don’t need it offer no evidence to back that up (because there isn’t any, which never stops critics of medical marijuana from stating this). In fact, a U.C. Santa Cruz study showed that 80 percent of patients were using it instead of prescription drugs, which were either ineffective for their symptoms or which had very negative side effects. Before the City Council imposes a ban, it should spend time talking with patients who have benefited from using marijuana to alleviate everything from depression and multiple sclerosis to pain from cancer and AIDS.

You can donate to the Union here and show your support for the ongoing fight to legalize marijuana and cease senseless raids, along with attending city council meetings and any other rallies. Hop on it.

This piece originally appeared in Kushsmoke and was republished with permission.