The very first meeting of the Planning Commission with newly appointed Commissioner Jolene Fuentes promises to be a memorable one. The sole topic is an ordinance to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries (MMD). MMDs were a hot topic a while ago when the city chose to ban them, suffered a loss in court and then won a victory of sorts when the California Supreme Court ruled (in City of Riverside vs. Inland Empire Health and Wellness Center) that cities could ban MMDs.
For a city that recently allowed a gambling den to be built, and which prides itself on having more stores selling alcohol per square foot than almost any other city around here, the choice to go after MMDs must seem curious. The “family values” argument is pretty weak when you consider how quick the City is to approved alcohol and gambling, so what’s the exception with marijuana?
BTW – Kudos to the Planning Commission that twice denied businesses to open another alcohol selling store.
The city staff claims that MMDs “pose a threat to the public health, safety, and welfare”. True enough, but is it more of a threat than gambling dens, alcohol, or even cigarette sales? Surely deaths attributable to alcohol and cigarette consumption far outweigh death by the demon weed. Surely the pain to families from gambling problems and alcohol addiction outweigh the pain from problem puffers. If the criteria to ban MMDs is the threat they pose, then what about all those other threats?
The city staff are also worried that “many of the MMDs located in the City failed to lawfully operate…” and while I don’t recall any history of arrests, if that was a problem, the City dealt with it just as they deal with all the other businesses who violate the law. Indeed, there are hundreds of citations and arrests every year for businesses that violate the law, yet these businesses are not forced to close categorically. Sales of alcohol and cigarettes to minors is a long-standing problem, but nobody seriously considers banning alcohol or cigarettes.
ADVERSE SECONDARY EFFECTS
The city staff also claimed that MMDs could result in “adverse secondary effects … including increases in crime such as robberies, burglaries, illegal drug deals, underage drug use, organized crime, money laundering, and firearms violations…” No data was supplied, even though data to support this thesis is readily available if true, so we can dismiss this claim as hyperbole. Indeed I think someone on the city staff watched the classic 1932 film “Reefer Madness” and instead of getting a laugh, they took notes.
It is worth noting, OTOH, that the association of marijuana with crime is a function of the fact that marijuana for so many years was outlawed, so the trade in marijuana was often conducted by criminals. It’s no different that the Prohibition Era when the ban on alcohol made speak-easies a place where the criminal underworld thrived. Once the ban was lifted, speak easies and the criminal element receded, and the criminals went off into other areas. Lesson – the best way to reduce the association between marijuana and crime is to de-criminalize marijuana, which is happening in many places.
THE FEDS ARE COMING! THE FEDS ARE COMING!
One of the main reasons given when the City chose to ban MMDs was that they were illegal by Federal law and allowing MMDs would encourage the hammy hand of the federal government to invade our streets. Funnily enough, this argument came from City Council members who usually said “This is Lake Forest. We don’t listen to what outsiders say.” And who opposed vigorously the intrusion of county, state, and federal agencies into our business. But these advocates of local rule rolled over when it came to MMDs.
In the intervening time, the federal government has seriously eased its stance on marijuana. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said that “the federal government would no longer interfere in states that allowed commercial marijuana sales as long as they were strictly regulated.” Dept. Atty. Gen. James Cole even sent out a memo to his top prosecutors calling off the hounds.
Personally I’m not in favor of altering consciousness. From what I can tell, most people don’t need to act any dumber than they already act, and anyone who attends our City Council or watches it on the Internet probably agrees. What annoys me in the MMD discussion is the hypocrisy. The public health problems associated with marijuana are shared with substances like alcohol, cigarettes, and even sugar.
The other aspect that angers me is the M in the MMD. Medical Marijuana Dispensaries were designed to help people with significant health problems, as determined by their physician. There is substantial evidence that a large group of people are helped, or at the very least, think they are helped by using marijuana. Do we deny these people the help they seek because there are problems in the system that was created for helping them? Wouldn’t it be better to tightly control the system? Wouldn’t we be more compassionate if we dealt severely with the violators while giving access to those in need? Wouldn’t the City and State be better off with the revenues from legitimate MMDs, than giving this business to shady characters who probably don’t pay taxes?
DOES YOUR OPINION EVEN MATTER?
The City has been acting de facto with a ban against MMDs. The City spent more than $1,000,000 in legal fees and staff time and energy to ban the MMDs and to chase them out of the City into other cities. To some extent, referring this action to the PC is merely pro forma, and no matter what the PC recommends, the City seems determined to ban MMDs. Nonetheless, your voice should be heard, whether you support or oppose the ban.