The Los Angeles City Council has lost it.
In a slap in the face to voters and patients, the City Council voted yesterday to direct the LAPD to coordinate with the DEA and the district attorney to enforce its recent ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, which is scheduled to go into effect on September 6.
The ban seems unlikely to stick: It is subject to both a legal challenge and a referendum petition. If advocates collect enough signatures, the odds strongly favor voters rejecting the ban. A 2009 MPP-commissioned poll found that 77% of L.A. County voters preferred regulation and licensing to a ban. Only 14% favored a complete ban on dispensaries. It is hard to overstate how out of touch this action is with voters. Los Angeles voters not only support medical marijuana; in 2010, 54% voted for Prop. 19, which would have allowed for marijuana to be sold for adults' use. Meanwhile, some courts have found that cities canʼt ban dispensaries and that doing so is preempted by state law. The California Supreme Court is taking up the issue.
But even if the ban is overturned by voters or in court, the damage done by calling in the feds could be extreme and irreversible for some. Letters from federal prosecutors threatening property forfeiture have resulted in hundreds of dispensaries closing statewide. Under California law, the penalties for violating the ban (if it wasnʼt overturned in courts) would be civil fines or misdemeanors. But in federal court — where perfect compliance with state law is no defense — harsh felony penalties could be imposed.
How many patients will have to go to the streets and risk muggings and contaminated marijuana if the LAPD and feds shut down their access? How many properties will become vacant? How many compassionate retailers will lose their livelihood or perhaps even their freedom? City law required dispensaries to employ security guards. How many crimes will result from the security guards being gone, as well as from this large market moving underground and due to the diverted law enforcement time?
In March 2013, I expect that Los Angeles voters will repeal the ban. As they do so, theyʼll also have a chance to elect new council members for more than half of the seats. It’s about time politicians realize that if they wage a war on medical marijuana, their political futures may become collateral damage.
For more information on the outrageous ban, you can listen to an archive of MPP’s Sarah Lovering on KPFK. Sarah’s segment aired on Uprising! this morning, Thursday, August 23. It begins about 20 minutes in, or one-third of the way.
After the recent federal crackdown on medical marijuana in California, advocates are understandably upset and want to show it. This week, they took their complaints right to the top, with hundreds of people turning out to protest President Obama in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Shortly after this, however, the U.S. Attorneys in charge of the California crackdown said that the Obama administration had nothing to do with it.
According to a statement made by California Eastern District spokesperson Lauren Horwood prior to these protests, “California U.S. Attorneys decided to take action on their own because the situation has grown out of control among recreational users. But she acknowledges they received Obama's blessing.” (quote from original author paraphrasing Horwood) After a massive outcry, and after protests specifically targeted at Obama, the story changed.
"What I said, or at least meant to say, was that the U.S. Attorneys in California saw the need for coordinated enforcement actions and spoke with folks in Main Justice in D.C. (not the Obama Administration)," she told the Huffington Post in an email.
Okay, so who at Main Justice is responsible?
According to Horwood, approval came from Deputy Attorney General James Cole, author of the Cole Memo that said only individual medical marijuana patients should expect to be left alone by federal law enforcement, not growers or distributors. Cole, however, seemed to be awfully uncomfortable talking about this for being the person directly responsible and lobbed the blame back to the U.S. Attorneys in California when asked if other medical marijuana states should expect this type of enforcement.
Okay, so is it really the California U.S. Attorneys who are responsible? Wait, no.
Kevin Sabet, former senior policy advisor for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, was not as uncomfortable answering that question, however. "Remember, all actions have to be approved by Attorney General Holder, so it's hard to imagine that California would be the only place the Department of Justice is focusing on," Sabet said.
So now the blame is on Holder?
Why can’t we get a straight answer from these people?
Whatever the reasoning for the crackdown, it appears that everyone is trying to draw responsibility away from the men at the top, but not allow it to be put solely on themselves either. After seeing the outrage of medical marijuana supporters in California this week, perhaps the president realized that this sort of interference is alienating his base. And while Attorney General Holder is surely thankful that this issue is distracting people from the fact that the DOJ and ATF provided Mexican drug cartels with assault rifles for two years, he certainly doesn’t need any more blame for unpopular decisions heaped upon him when he is under the gun. And the U.S. Attorneys certainly don’t want to look like they are going rogue, but direct popular anger at their bosses.
We are basically left with two options: either Obama is knowingly breaking his campaign promise to leave medical marijuana alone, or he has completely lost control of the Department of Justice.
And unless the former is true, everyone in the chain of command has the power to stop this wasteful insanity and allow states to run their medical marijuana programs free from unwanted federal interference.
The buck stops with all of them.
In medical marijuana states, it is pretty common to hear sensational news reports about crime associated with dispensaries. Stories of violent robberies, late-night burglaries, diversion and illegal sales, weapons, and even murder get a lot of attention from the media. They get even more attention from law enforcement, who see such stories as yet another way to convince people that medical marijuana is dangerous and scary and should be revoked.
Law enforcement is so desperate to prove this connection between dispensaries and crime that they searched all over the country for data that would support their hypothesis.
Lo and behold, it turns out the exact opposite is true.
Today, the non-partisan Rand Corporation released a study on crime near dispensaries conducted in Los Angeles before and after a recent ordinance forced the closure of nearly 400 locations. According to the report, crime increased by as much as 54% in the areas surrounding dispensaries that were forced to close within ten days of the ordinance going into effect. Neighborhoods near dispensaries that stayed open showed no increase in crime during that period.
We at MPP have been saying for some time that by closing dispensaries in medical marijuana states (or localities, even), authorities are driving patients into the illicit market. While I would hesitate to call such an act a crime, as opposed to a necessity, this study apparently shows that other sorts of crime are affected by the presence of dispensaries. Some contributing factors include the large volume of people there throughout the day, the security measures put in place to protect patients and employees, and the fact that the police actually depend on dispensary video surveillance to prevent and solve crimes!
Authorities should take note of this information, particularly in places like Michigan and Montana, where the medical marijuana industries have been all but shut down recently by overzealous public officials and community groups. Most of these groups depended on overblown concerns about community safety for their efforts to be successful. It’s time for a little education.
Did you see the announcement last week about our upcoming summertime fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion? The Marijuana Policy Project will be returning to host another event at the famed venue in Los Angeles on July 7, from 8:00 pm to midnight, and we hope you'll attend.
The ticket price will increase approximately once a month as the event nears, so buy early, before the next price increase on April 1. Please visit www.mpp.org/pb2011 for more details.
Part of the price of each ticket is tax-deductible, and 100% of the proceeds will go toward our efforts to end marijuana prohibition in the U.S.
In other words, this is a win/win/win situation: You attend an unforgettable party, you receive a tax deduction, and you help change our nation's absurd marijuana laws, which are more harmful than marijuana itself.
In addition to the Mansion's famous attractions -- the monkeys, the Game House, and the grotto -- there will also be a music act, comedians, fire-dancing, and a few surprises.
The work that MPP does around the nation to pass medical marijuana laws, improve existing medical marijuana laws, and decriminalize marijuana (just to name some of what we do), costs money. We do a variety of things to raise that money, and one of them is holding fundraisers at intriguing venues we know our supporters will want to check out.
These tickets almost sell themselves, so please consider forwarding this message to your friends, family, and colleagues to let them know that they should purchase a few tickets today, before the price goes up at the end of this month.
I hope to see you on July 7.
First, the good news: California attorney general candidate Steve Cooley conceded the election to his opponent, Kamala Harris. While Harris may not be the most outspoken supporter of Prop 215 or medical marijuana patients, she is sure to be a better option. Cooley's history of antagonism toward the medical marijuana field and complicity with federal law enforcement as district attorney of Los Angeles would have meant trouble for the state's more than 350K registered patients. Disaster averted!
Unfortunately, the marijuana-hostile legal and civic environment that Cooley helped create in Southern California resulted in Los Angeles and Orange County supervisors voting to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in all unincorporated areas. Rather than use the tools at their disposal to deal with illegal dispensaries, the supervisors elected to effectively deny patients in those areas access to their medicine unless they feel like a nice long drive (assuming they are able to travel, or even get out of bed).
L.A. County patients can take one small comfort, though. It appears that higher politics has left Cooley feeling a little burned out, judging from a statement he released suggesting that this is his last term in office:
"I will complete my third term and finish my career as a professional prosecutor in the office where it began over 37 years ago," he said.
On the same day that the California NAACP endorsed that state’s ballot initiative to end marijuana prohibition (now officially named Proposition 19), our allies at the Drug Policy Alliance released a new study that shines a light on the systemic racial bias behind marijuana arrests taking place all across California.
Among the report’s findings:
- “In every one of the 25 largest counties in California, blacks are arrested for marijuana possession at higher rates than whites, typically at double, triple or even quadruple the rate of whites,” even though “U.S. government studies consistently find that young blacks use marijuana at lower rates than young whites.”
- “In Los Angeles County, with nearly ten million residents and over a quarter of California’s population, blacks are arrested at over triple the rate of whites. Blacks are less than 10 percent of L.A. County’s population, but they are 30 percent of the people arrested for marijuana possession.”
- “Police in other California counties, even those with relatively few blacks or relatively low rates of marijuana arrests, still arrest blacks at much higher rates than whites. African Americans are arrested for marijuana possession at nearly three times the rate of whites in Solano County, and at three to four times the rate of whites in Sonoma, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco counties.”
The report, written by Prof. Harry Levine of Queens College, finds this overwhelming racial bias to be a “system-wide phenomenon” and not just the result of a handful of racist cops. That’s because most narcotics officers are assigned to patrol so-called “high-crime” neighborhoods that are disproportionately low-income and minority. In those neighborhoods—as in nearly all neighborhoods—the most likely, or easiest arrest an officer can make is for marijuana possession. If we want to end this racial bias, we need to end the laws that allow it to occur. Come November, California voters will have an opportunity to do just that.
For those of you who don't regularly see our video features, I present to you the MPP Insider #009. You can access the HD version by right-clicking and viewing on YouTube, or by viewing the video in fullscreen mode.
Today, the City of Los Angeles will begin enforcing its ordinance regulating storefront medical marijuana dispensing collectives. The ordinance will force most of the city’s collectives to shut down (over 400 establishments), while the remaining 138 or so (those who registered with the city prior to Nov. 13, 2007) will have to comply with new zoning laws that are stricter than those for adult entertainment businesses, retail alcohol vendors, and pharmacies.
I will be the first to acknowledge that thoughtful planning and zoning are important for any community. But the way that Los Angeles has chosen to regulate medical marijuana treats marijuana as if it were far more dangerous than the products sold by pharmacies and liquor stores and willfully thrusts the city into an even worse economic position than it’s already in.
Once their neighborhood dispensaries have been shut down, forced to move, or so overloaded with business that long lines render the experience too inconvenient, I predict that many Angelenos will turn to the traditional unregulated street dealer for marijuana. That means sales taxes won’t be paid on those transactions, it will be impossible to monitor the quality or origin of that marijuana, and the typical turf wars and crime associated with black markets will become more prevalent in our communities.
From an economic standpoint, the ordinance will shut down over 400 businesses, putting at least 1,000 people out of work and vacating all of those retail spaces – a sizeable impact on the city’s already shabby economy.
As with many other aspects of our nation’s drug control policies, you really have to abandon common sense to see how this will be better for Los Angeles. And frankly, I’m tired of doing that.
After more than two years of deliberation -- and just plain foot-dragging -- on the issue, the Los Angeles City Council voted 9-3 today to enact an ordinance regulating the operation of medical marijuana facilities in the city. It's certainly a significant milestone that the second largest city in the nation (eighth in the world) has a law on the books allowing marijuana to be sold through locally regulated storefronts. However, upon digging into the details of the ordinance, it doesn't seem to be a great boon for the seriously ill and injured Angelenos who rely on medical marijuana.
The ordinance will restrict the number of medical marijuana facilities in the city to 70, but it does grandfather in about 150 collectives which were registered with the city prior to a moratorium which went into effect in 2007. The law will also require all marijuana products to be tested for contaminants and pesticides by an "independent and certified laboratory." Testing of this nature is a great idea and indeed some in California's medical marijuana community are working on developing such practices and standards, but finding a lab equipped for this type of testing overnight will be no small chore.
What's probably the most troublesome detail is that the new ordinance institutes 1,000-foot zones around "sensitive uses" where medical marijuana collectives cannot operate legally. These include schools, public parks, libraries, and even churches. This huge 1,000-foot radius and another requirement that facilities may not be located adjacent to residential zones -- which is not required of alcohol vendors -- will force nearly all to move.
Meanwhile, patients looking for a safe and open place to acquire their medicine in Los Angeles may just be finding life that much more difficult.