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Medical Pot Law Hazy on Details


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Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Author: Michael Kolber -- Bee Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, April 22, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Sacramento Bee
Contact: [email protected]

In the 1994 Quentin Tarantino movie "Pulp Fiction," John Travolta's character describes Amsterdam's marijuana laws: "It's legal to buy it, it's legal to own it, and if you're the proprietor of a hash bar, it's legal to sell it. It's legal to carry it, but that doesn't matter 'cause - get a load of this - if you get stopped by a cop in Amsterdam, it's illegal for them to search you."

The law in California is slightly more confusing.

A 1996 voter initiative, Proposition 215, allowed the use and cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor's recommendation. The initiative protects doctors from prosecution for recommending the drug.

But Proposition 215 provided little detail about how marijuana legalization would work. A 2003 law was intended to provide some of those details, but funding isn't available to implement it. The conflict with federal law, which prohibits the use and production of marijuana, is still unresolved.

As cities, including Elk Grove, begin to regulate the sale of medical marijuana, many legal and medical questions remain. Here are some of the answerable ones:

Q: Is marijuana legal in California?

A: Under federal law, the use, possession or sale of marijuana is never legal, although the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has been ambivalent about prosecuting small marijuana producers and users.

Proposition 215 legalized the use and possession of marijuana for medical purposes but said nothing about how users and caregivers were supposed to obtain the marijuana - a decision that has been left largely up to cities and counties.

"The big problem that has caused difficulty is where caretakers and users get the marijuana," said Michael Vitiello, a professor at the McGeorge School of Law. "We're left with this magical solution of where this stuff comes from."

Some cities, particularly Oakland, have embraced medical marijuana clubs that distribute pot and provide educational programs. Others, such as Elk Grove and Citrus Heights, have instituted regulatory programs intended to discourage the dispensaries.

Vitiello said he suspected that distributors who sell marijuana for near the cost of production to medical users would escape state prosecution.

A 2003 law, SB 420, was intended to standardize the issue by having the state Department of Health Services issue identification cards to authorized medical marijuana patients. But that hasn't been implemented because of the lack of funding.

In 2002, the state Supreme Court ruled that having a doctor's recommendation could be a defense against state drug charges, although it does not immunize a person against prosecution.

In December 2003, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that state drug law could override federal drug law in cases where interstate commerce was not involved. Vitiello said he expects that case to be overturned if the U.S. Supreme Court hears it.

Q: Does marijuana have health benefits?

A: Since the mid-1980s, THC, the principal active ingredient in marijuana, has been approved by the federal government to treat nausea and vomiting in cancer and other terminally ill patients, said Yali Hallock, a chemist and program manager at the National Cancer Institute. It can be taken orally, in pill form. It also can be used topically to treat glaucoma patients.

Hallock said at least two or three peer-reviewed studies to test the safety and efficacy of marijuana are being funded by her agency.

But she said the federal government does not condone smoking marijuana for medical reasons, because much is still unknown about its effects.

"Marijuana is not a single drug," Hallock said. "It's a mixture of hundreds of chemicals."

And the levels of those drugs can vary from plant to plant.

Hallock said there is little doubt that marijuana has some medical benefits but that smoking the plant might not be the most effective method to administer the drug. It could have long-term effects on the respiratory or immune system, she said.

Most Back Marijuana Sales in City

Bee Regional Staff

The Elk Grove City Council voted this month to tighten restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries before any could open in the city.

The restrictions prohibit the use and cultivation of marijuana on the premises, ban the sale of drug paraphernalia, mandate that waste be removed twice a day and require drug tests for store employees.

The dispensaries also are restricted to areas zoned commercial that are at least 1,000 feet away from any school. Business hours are limited to 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

In voting for the restrictions, council members made it clear they did not want a medical marijuana shop in Elk Grove.

We wanted to know what you thought about the issue. All but one of the comments we received were in support of a dispensary opening in Elk Grove.

The equating of a center for medicinal pot with criminal activity is outrageous. If drugs were bad - and for that we have to include alcohol - then every liquor store is a potential criminal hangout.

People in pain need a remedy for that pain. Only the truly insensitive see only the bad and not the good. Let them have some member of their family suffering pain and maybe they would think differently.

We don't need council members who are still living in the 19th century. We need people of courage and understanding and not people afraid of some mysterious unseen boogie man

Ron Skriloff -- Elk Grove

I am most definitely in favor of medical marijuana for anyone who wants to take it for pain from any disease or condition causing severe pain.

Several years ago (before it was legal in California), a relative who had terminal cancer used it for several months and was thus able to eat again and was almost pain-free until he died. Without this drug, his last few months would have been much different.

I see no reason that it should not be available in Elk Grove.

Ruth Barry -- Sacramento

I have been to the Roseville cannabis club. I think the bank teller window creates a professional, safe, business atmosphere. The employees are courteous, and the whole setup is more like a pharmacy than a hippie hangout. I have never seen people standing outside, loitering.

It allows people with a medical need to purchase marijuana with dignity, instead of hiding in a back alley.

Of course, restrictions are always a good thing, as long as they are made from common sense, not out of fear. Requiring drug tests for store employees? That's not fair. I do not like the time restrictions. I am unable to drive due to my illness. I would like to see them open later, so my husband could drive me there after he gets home from work.

Robin Aranda -- Elk Grove

I believe that Elk Grove would be doing itself a great disservice by allowing these illegal businesses to open here.

First of all, it is in direct violation of federal law. Do we really want to send the message that it's OK for local government to break laws?

Secondly, I believe that the children and youths of Elk Grove will be sent the wrong message regarding drug use. I don't want my children thinking that drugs are OK if you say you're sick.

Lastly, if an individual has an ailment that keeps them in constant pain, do like the rest of us and go to your doctor. Get a legal prescription. I don't believe anyone who says marijuana is the only treatment.

We have spent years trying to get the word out about the negative effects of drug use, and now we want to support it. I say no, not here, not now, not ever.

Cheri Chord -- Elk Grove

A medical marijuana dispensary is a legal business and is subject to the same requirements as a pharmacy. If it is carefully managed ... it has a legitimate place in Elk Grove, without unnecessary restrictions established to discourage its presence.

Frances Fite -- Elk Grove

I have an invitation for Mayor Sophia Scherman, Councilman Michael Leary and any other citizen who might oppose medical marijuana dispensaries. If it were possible, please spend one hour in my shoes. At least take one moment to consider my situation.

I have progressive multiple sclerosis and was, until fairly recently, a fully functional and mobile human being. I am now a paraplegic, with symptoms quickly spreading to my upper extremities. I experience extraordinary pain on a daily basis.

I do not use medical marijuana on a daily basis; rather only on some evenings when my pain is so great that I cannot fall asleep. Even with its use, I can depend on perhaps three or four hours of uninterrupted sleep. Every day, I depend on various drugs that can seriously damage my liver, affect and impair my thinking, alertness, ability to stay awake, speech and all manner of functions that an able-bodied person, including myself not too long ago, takes for granted. Even at night, I turn first to drugs proven to be addictive to sleep rather than use marijuana, which I have not found to be addictive.

I have heard that the Roseville facility has the same type of security used by banks. They also insist on faxes of documents, sent to them directly from the medical facility, to avoid potential forgeries. They do not allow anyone through their doors who does not have a legal, medical authorization to be there.

I would think that Mrs. Scherman would welcome it, not state, "If they have to go through that type of security, then we don't want them in Elk Grove."

I also find her statement urging residents to talk to shopping center developers to encourage them not to lease space to dispensaries to be uninformed, McCarthy-esque scare tactics and an affront to those of us with verifiable medical conditions whose use of medical cannabis is sanctioned by a law voted on by the majority of the citizens of California.

Her Web site states that she has a open-door policy. I would encourage her to apply it to her mind and heart as well.

 Cindy Calamusa -- Elk Grove


Related Articles & Web Site:

Medicinal Cannabis Research Links

Few Complaints About Medical Pot

Council Restricts Medical Pot Sale

Elk Grove Balks at Medical Pot




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