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Pot Policy: Feds Back Off, Now City Must Move In

Los Angeles, CA — Finally, the federal government is going to allow Californians to buy marijuana as a medication – 13 years after state voters approved it.

medical marijuana californiaNow, local and state governments must move quickly to come up with sane and practical regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries.

Medical marijuana was approved for medicinal use in California after Proposition 215 was passed by voters in 1996. After that, dispensaries opened all over Los Angeles and enjoyed virtually no regulation by state or local government.

The unchecked growth naturally led to abuses and to community concerns in places like North Hollywood, which has more than its fair share of dispensaries. As a result, in 2007, federal agents started raiding existing dispensaries and L.A. was forced to put a temporary halt on new ones.

Last week, the new U.S. attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., announced new policy that would end raids of pot clinics that were acting legally under California law. Instead of harassing valid and legitimate clinics, Holder said, the feds will focus on prosecuting only egregious cases of selling to minors, selling to people without physicians’ recommendations, or selling from an unauthorized place.

That certainly makes sense as, unfortunately, there is a lot of abuse, which clouds matters for anyone who truly needs marijuana for its proven abilities to ease pain, nausea and other conditions without the side effects of prescription medications. Some marijuana clinics are pretty relaxed about requiring doctors’ recommendations, and some are merely fronts for dealers.

What this means in a practical sense is that the feds are bowing to the will of California and other states that have passed laws allowing sick people to use pot in violation of federal law. They don’t have to; federal law trumps state law.

The Bush administration took a hard-line approach to medical marijuana. In 2007, DEA agents swooped into Los Angeles and with the help of the Los Angeles Police Department raided a number of legitimate dispensaries. This seems ludicrous in the great scheme of things, considering the mild nature of marijuana compared with methamphetamine or crack. Experts say it is no more harmful than aspirin and far less dangerous than an addiction to, say, alcohol.

The new attitude in the Justice Department is not a surprise, given assurances President Obama has made that medical marijuana clinics would be left alone. But the new attorney general has spelled out the policy nicely.

Let’s hope the message gets to federal prosecutors in California, who could make life difficult for even the most scrupulously honest clinic operator.

Meanwhile, with the feds backing off it puts the onus on local officials to step in and make sure the marijuana dispensaries are operating within the letter and the spirit of the law.

It’s been almost two years since the Los Angeles City Council enacted a moratorium on new dispensaries in the city while officials craft a set of regulations. It’s worrisome that these new rules are still in development, especially considering the moratorium will expire this year.

We urge the City Council to put rules on medical marijuana dispensaries at the top of the agenda in coming months so that legitimate pot clinics need never be visited by another DEA raid.


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