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October 8, 2012

"Marijuana Only for the Sick? A Farce, Some Angelenos Say"

The title of this post is the headline of this intriguing piece in today's New York Times.  Here are excerpts:

One year after federal law enforcement officials began cracking down on California’s medical marijuana industry with a series of high-profile arrests around the state, they finally moved into Los Angeles last month, giving 71 dispensaries until Tuesday to shut down.  At the same time, because of a well-organized push by a new coalition of medical marijuana supporters, the City Council last week repealed a ban on the dispensaries that it had passed only a couple of months earlier.

Despite years of trying fruitlessly to regulate medical marijuana, California again finds itself in a marijuana-laced chaos over a booming and divisive industry.  Nobody even knows how many medical marijuana dispensaries are in Los Angeles. Estimates range from 500 to more than 1,000.  The only certainty, supporters and opponents agree, is that they far outnumber Starbucks....

In the biggest push against medical marijuana since California legalized it in 1996, the federal authorities have shut at least 600 dispensaries statewide since last October. California’s four United States attorneys said the dispensaries violated not only federal law, which considers all possession and distribution of marijuana to be illegal, but state law, which requires operators to be nonprofit primary caregivers to their patients and to distribute marijuana strictly for medical purposes.

While announcing the actions against the 71 dispensaries, André Birotte Jr., the United States attorney for the Central District of California, indicated that it was only the beginning of his campaign in Los Angeles.  Prosecutors filed asset forfeiture lawsuits against three dispensaries and sent letters warning of criminal charges to the operators and landlords of 68 others, a strategy that has closed nearly 97 percent of the targeted dispensaries elsewhere in the district, said Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the United States attorney.

Vague state laws governing medical marijuana have allowed recreational users of the drug to take advantage of the dispensaries, say supporters of the Los Angeles ban and the federal crackdown.  Here on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, pitchmen dressed all in marijuana green approach passers-by with offers of a $35, 10-minute evaluation for a medical marijuana recommendation for everything from cancer to appetite loss.

Nearly 180 cities across the state have banned dispensaries, and lawsuits challenging the bans have reached the State Supreme Court.  In more liberal areas, some 50 municipalities have passed medical marijuana ordinances, but most have suspended the regulation of dispensaries because of the federal offensive, according to Americans for Safe Access, a group that promotes access to medical marijuana.  San Francisco and Oakland, the fiercest defenders of medical marijuana, have continued to issue permits to new dispensaries....

In downtown Los Angeles, where most of the dispensaries were included in the order to close, workers were renovating the storefront of the Downtown Collective.  Inside, house music was being played in a lobby decorated to conjure “Scarface,” a poster of which hung on a wall. “We don’t worry about this,” the manager said of the federal offensive, declining to give his name. “It’s between the lawyers.”

David Welch, a lawyer who is representing 15 of the 71 dispensaries and who is involved in a lawsuit challenging a ban at the State Supreme Court, said the federal clampdown would fail.  “Medical marijuana dispensaries are very much like what they distribute: they’re weeds,” he said. “You cut them down, you leave, and then they sprout back up.”

October 8, 2012 at 09:27 AM | Permalink


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I sleep better at night knowing that the federal government is hard at work on this.

Identity theft is a pet peeve of mine and is the single most prevalent non-violent crime in the USA. It is also fully interstate in nature, utilizing the mails and the wires. I would be curious about federal expenditures investigating and prosecuting identity theft. I wonder what the ratio of expenditures on the drug war vis a vis Identity theft is.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Oct 8, 2012 10:51:38 AM

Jardinero1 ,

But investigating and prosecuting identity theft is _work_, whereas going after these dispensaries is picking low hanging fruit. You can't really expect a federal prosecutor to do back-breaking labor when they can just wander along the highway and fill their basket to overflowing.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Oct 8, 2012 11:06:09 AM

Jardinero1 and Soronel --

No federal prosecutor I ever heard of thinks he's going to make his reputation doing pot cases. Meth, yes; heroin, yes. Pot, no.

And I think you're missing the main point of the article, which is that this "medical" marijuana stuff is a fraud. It has zip to do with medicine, and everything to do with getting blasted. It's presented as "medical" simply to make it sound high-minded, when it's really just about getting high.

Nor is it just a federal frolic. Two years ago, California voters rejected making pot legal for recreational use. So the ongoing perversion of "medical" marijuana is contrary, not just to federal law, but to the will of the California electorate. If it's up to the people of California to decide, my answer is: They have.

I understand that there is a good deal of sentiment for making pot legal, which is the main reason it IS legal, at least de facto. Only an infinitesimal amount of pot smoking that gets done winds up in a criminal prosecution of any kind.

This issue seems to spark a lot of heat, but in terms of its practical effect on how people live, it has precious little importance. It's more of a libertarian bee-in-the-bonnet.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 8, 2012 11:27:16 AM

Bill Otis remains dishonest or unable to reconcile his perceptions and actual facts:

Is Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach's medicinal use of marijuana a fraud? http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/17/us-usa-judge-marijuana-idUSBRE84G1GX20120517

Is Angel Raich's medicinal use of marijuana a fraud?

The voters of California passed Prop. 215 way back in 1996. It expressly recognizes the medical utility of cannabis.

The real fraud here is Bill Otis.

Posted by: Eric Leslie | Oct 8, 2012 1:27:04 PM

Eric Leslie --

As you would know if you weren't too lazy to look it up, I have said repeatedly that the active ingredient in pot, THC, has some legitimate medicinal uses, which is why it's legally available by prescription in Marinol.

The fact that there are some instances of legitimate use hardly negates the thesis of this New York Times report (is the NYT a fraud, too?), to wit, that the "medical" dispensaries in Los Angeles (as elsewhere) don't give a hoot about sickness or medicine, and are simply store fronts for drug dealers.

Perhaps you could turn your "insights" to this line from the NYT story: "Here on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, pitchmen dressed all in marijuana green approach passers-by with offers of a $35, 10-minute evaluation for a medical marijuana recommendation for everything from cancer to appetite loss."

That's not a fraud? Sure thing, Mr. Leslie.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 8, 2012 2:39:53 PM

What? People are using marijuana to make themselves feel better? This is an outrage! Here I am, sitting only 1,800 miles away from Los Angeles, and I can't even go on about my business, knowing that someone over there chooses to ingest a substance that a bunch of racists decided was evil back in the 1930's. Now my day is ruined. Clearly, we need to ramp up the war on drugs. More people dying, more people in prison, and more people's lives ruined is a small price to pay so that I don't have to suffer the indignity of knowing that someone in Los Angeles might be enjoying himself.

Posted by: C.E. | Oct 8, 2012 3:35:24 PM

Marijuana is bad.

We need the federal government to babysit everybody and make sure they stay away from the evil weed.

The federal government knows best. Doctors don't know what they're talking about.

The war on drugs is good.

We need Romney to put on his magic underwear and prosecute the war on drugs more vigorously than the Kenyan.

Posted by: Stupid Republican | Oct 8, 2012 3:37:52 PM

C.E. --

"Here I am, sitting only 1,800 miles away from Los Angeles, and I can't even go on about my business, knowing that someone over there chooses to ingest a substance that a bunch of racists decided was evil back in the 1930's."

Ah, yes, the ever-present cry of RACISM!!! Al Sharpton, call your office.

If you missed it, the drive against the California "medical" dispensaries in being led by the Holder Justice Department, under the Obama Administration.

Care to tell us about the racism of Holder and Obama? Should I hold my breath on that one?

P.S. People "enjoy themselves" doing heroin, too. Indeed, that's the only reason they do it. Should we legalize that, in addition?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 8, 2012 3:49:52 PM

Stupid Republican,

In the same way that only Nixon could open up China, only a Morman President could end the war against drugs. I would not be surprised one bit if, by executive order, a President Romney didn't dial the war on drugs way, way back.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Oct 8, 2012 3:52:46 PM

Jardinero1 --

There was a significant strategic advantage in Nixon's courting China, as a counterweight to the then-much more ominous Soviet Union.

There is no similar significant strategic advantage to dropping the effort to suppress drug use. Indeed, if they even think about it, I would guess the Chinese want us to stay as stoned as possible for as long as possible. The competition between a stoned workforce and a non-stoned workforce would be quite one-sided.

In addition, majorities oppose the legaliazation of pot, see the polls collected at PollingReport.com, http://www.pollingreport.com/drugs.htm

If Romney wins, it will be by a small margin. Why would he want to adopt a stance a majority of the country, and an even bigger majority of his own party, oppose?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Oct 8, 2012 4:10:54 PM

Mr. Otis,

There is more than one way to square things. He could dial back or eliminate federal enforcement altogether and leave it to each state to enforce its own drug laws. Not every crime has to be a federal crime. Until the first world war there was little to no federal criminal law of any kind. States made and enforced their own criminal statutes that reflected the mores and values of those states.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Oct 8, 2012 6:33:03 PM


You must be hanging out on Mormonism's Kolob with the space babies.

Romney is on record/video recently, proclaiming emphatically that he views marijuana as a gateway drug. In that regard, he is in the company of many other idiots.

I will note, however, that Romney does stake out positions on both sides of almost every issue.

Posted by: Stupid Republican | Oct 9, 2012 12:54:50 PM

Stupid Republican,

You can be against drugs, all drugs, even alcohol and caffeine, and still say that it's a federalism thing, best left to local option.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | Oct 9, 2012 1:13:43 PM

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