Reefer Madness: Medi-Pot Update

State lawmakers change pot rules and more states consider legalizing

Reefer Madness: Medi-Pot Update

Medical marijuana advocates in Los Angeles are upset about a new city ordinance that will close hundreds of pot dispensaries – and could send patients back to the streets to score.

On June 7 a new L.A. city ordinance took effect, forcing the closure of at least 400 pot dispensaries in operation around the city. Another 137 might be able to stay in business, provided they can comply with the laundry list of requirements the city has now crafted to control their operations – including regulations that would keep the pot shops away from schools and parks; that would require uniformed security guards on duty during business hours, require a particular lighting scheme and security bars on windows, remote-controlled entry of doors and "web-based closed-circuit" television monitoring. The dispensaries must all confirm non-profit status with annual audits and now must provide pot pesticide-test results to officials. And these are just a few of the new regs the dispensaries must now abide. In short, say some advocates, the new regs will make it harder to maintain a medi-pot dispensary than it would a strip club or liquor store. Now that's progress!

The problem is that city officials have been freaked by the proliferation of pot dispensaries in the Southland, the number of which now tops 600 – and they've been hashing over details of a new ordinance for some five years. The new ordinance – in part prompted by police reports of an "escalation of violent crime" at dispensary locations, an assertion that, notably, has few public examples (at least that Reefer Madness can find) – caps the total number of dispensaries allowed in the city at 70. That's right: 70, for a city population of some 4 million or so. Needless to say, the new ordinance, and the cap (which the city has defined geographically) has already prompted several lawsuits from dispensary owners, reports the L.A. Times. And despite official opinion that crime will somehow now drop, other advocates suggest that making it harder for legal medi-pot patients to find dope may encourage them to go to the black market for their meds – a problem that legalizing the business had in part sought to solve.

Meanwhile, in Colorado this week Gov. Bill Ritter signed into law two measures that lawmakers said will strengthen that state's medi-mari laws – and, as the Denver Post put it, "professionalize the industry." One measure would require that a medi-pot patient have a bona fide medical relationship with the doctor that recommended pot and prevents doctors from being paid by dispensaries to write recommendations – in other words, the bill is meant to help "prevent fraud and abuse," Ritter said.

The other, more controversial measure, would, similar to the L.A. ordinance, rein in dispensaries: It would require pot providers to be licensed by state and local officials and would require dispensaries to grow 70% of the dope they sell (a way to cut down on wholesale growers). The bill would also allow individual cities to ban dispensaries altogether (as Vail and Denver suburb Greenwood Village are planning to do) – a provision that, again, causes concern for medi-pot advocates and has lawyers ready to challenge the new law, reports the Post.

But even as veteran medi-pot states continue to struggle with new regulations, additional states and municipalities will vote to redefine their pot laws this fall. In Arizona – where pot-related measures in the past have earned voter approval but for a variety of reasons have not been implemented (legislators overturned a 1996 voter-passed law, for example, and a 1998 version was eliminated due to a "drafting error") – voters in November will decide whether to allow qualified patients to register with the state and to either purchase pot from licensed dispensaries or to grow pot for themselves if they live 25 miles or more from a pot provider.

And voters in the beleaguered Motor City will be asked this fall whether they'd like to eliminate criminal penalties for possession and use of less than an ounce of pot by adults on private property. The initiative backers say Detroit cops are wasting way too much time on petty pot arrests; time – and money – could be better spent getting tough on "real" crime. Backers note that lowest-police-priority initiatives and decrim measures have been passed in a number of cities without any resulting increase in crime – just down the road in Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, minor pot possession was downgraded to a fine-only offense in the 1970s without any "negative consequences as a result."

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