Marijuana Dispensaries Are Safe Places to Get Medicine

Patients who are terminally ill, have impaired mobility or simply lack the space, deserve a safe, local and well-regulated facility

By Eugene Davidovich  |  Published in UT San Diego

Putting the power back in the hands of the patient and their doctor rather than law enforcement is still missing 17 years after California passed Prop 215.

Seventeen years after California voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 215, many prohibitionists have distorted the law and voters’ intent, claiming “medical marijuana” was only supposed to be for those with AIDS, cancer or terminal illness.

Truth is voters knew exactly what they were doing when they approved the proposition.

The intent of Prop. 215 was to take the issue of medical cannabis out of the hands of law enforcement and place it where it belongs; between the patient and their doctor.

The law specifically states, “Seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician … in the treatment of … any illness for which marijuana provides relief.”

Eight years after Prop. 215 was passed and with federal law still unchanged, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 420, designed to further clarify protections for patients, law enforcement and local communities.

It created a statewide ID card program and allowed for the formation of nonprofit collectives and cooperatives where cannabis could be sold to patients.

In the years that followed SB 420’s approval, state courts and the state attorney general agreed that nonprofit sales of cannabis were legal.

In San Diego, however, determined to stop all access, prohibitionists ramped up their efforts and claimed patients are allowed to only grow their own or form small groups where all members participate in the cultivation.

Although both ideas are legal and fit for a small segment of the patient population, a majority of those who use cannabis medicinally lack the requisite skills to grow it.

In addition, many are terminally ill, have impaired mobility or simply lack the space. These patients deserve a safe, local and well-regulated facility.

In the city, the last attempt at regulations began with the City Council creating a task force made of members from all sides. The task force met, heard from the community and drafted recommendations for an ordinance.

By the time those recommendations reached the council, the results were so restrictive that a majority of task force members themselves were opposed to it. The ordinance was still approved.

Although severely restrictive and far from perfect, the ordinance was a first step toward permanent safe access and would have created a limited number of licensed facilities in far-flung industrial areas.

After the ordinance passed, advocates with San Diego Americans for Safe Access began working on easing the restrictions by asking the council for another look at the legislation and planning litigation against the problematic portions of the new law.

Guided by bad political advice, others in the pro-medical cannabis community chose a different route, funding a signature drive to outright repeal the law rather then work to modify it.

Their drive was successful and forced the council to choose to either repeal the new law or fund an expensive special election in which voters would make the decision. Council members opted for the less expensive option.

This left the city with no regulations and encouraged the city attorney, district attorney and federal prosecutors to execute their collaborative crackdown. In a matter of months, over 100 local facilities were eradicated. Many patients throughout the city thought the fight for regulations in San Diego had been lost until Bob Filner won the November mayoral election.

Two months after his victory, in an act of commitment to his constituents, Mayor Filner announced at the January SD ASA meeting that he would respect the will of the voters. He called for an end to the crackdown and promised the city would take the issue up again.

After the announcement, his office began considering other cities’ regulations, hearing from stakeholders and balancing concerns of the community.

In less than two months, a new proposal was developed and is scheduled to be presented to the City Council on April 22.

If passed, the proposal would establish strict zoning and operational requirements for dispensaries in the city. Facilities would have to locate in limited commercial and industrial zones, 600 feet away from schools, other dispensaries, and various “sensitive” uses.

On top of sales tax, the proposal includes an additional 2 percent tax, a ban on vending machine sales and a requirement that all members of these nonprofit facilities be in possession of a Department of Health Medical Marijuana Identification Card.

As with any legislation, folks have raised concerns about portions of the proposal, including those dealing with taxes, zoning and the ID card requirement.

The hope remains that instead of further restricting access, on April 22, the council would address these concerns and support the mayor’s balanced approach – not side with prohibition.

If reason prevails, San Diego will soon be back on the path to permanent safe access as the voters intended 17 years ago.

Eugene Davidovich is a Navy veteran, patient advocate, father, and a 20-year-plus resident of San Diego

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