Black Marketeers, Rejoice: Feds and Local Prosecutors Teaming Up Against Legal Weed

by on October 24, 2011 · 13 comments

in Civil Rights

The music video for Guns ‘N’ Roses’ “You Could Be Mine” concludes with a classic moment where Arnold Schwarzenegger, playing his Terminator character, considers assassinating singer Axl Rose.

When the Terminator’s computer brain deems Rose a “waste of ammo,” Arnold lowers his weapon and walks away, presumably to engage a more worthy target.

Axl Rose waste of ammo

The Terminator was right about Axl -- and weed

In 2010, employing a similar thought process as governor of California, Schwarzenegger changed small-time possession of marijuana from a misdemeanor to an infraction carrying a $100 fine.

“In this time of drastic budget cuts,” Arnold said in his signing statement, “prosecutors, defense attorneys, law enforcement and the courts cannot afford to expend limited resources prosecuting a crime that carries the same punishment as a traffic ticket.”

Arnold, in other words, was acknowledging that marijuana criminalization is a waste of ammo.

The Obama administration originally took the same tack. In 2009, the Justice Department said it wouldn’t waste time and money prosecuting people “whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance” with any given state’s marijuana laws.

Now the feds appear to believe that Californians have gone too far.

Reefer Madness poster

An inspiration for recent policy?

This month, federal prosecutors announced they might seize property rented to dispensaries, and that publishers who profit from pot ads could be subject to penalties. The new approach seems to hinge on the premise that too many dispensaries appear to be profit-making organizations, and also that too many Californians without legitimate medical needs are purchasing medical marijuana.

The federal move comes as officials in cities like San Diego and Los Angeles continue to work to limit the proliferation of new dispensaries and shut down existing ones.

“We’re gratified that they see what we see, which is what began as an opportunity to help seriously ill patients has evolved into storefront drug sales and trafficking,” Jane Usher, a Los Angeles city attorney, told the LA Times.

But the feds appear to have different plans for different parts of California. “They want to do a clean sweep in San Diego, whereas in Northern California they can’t possibly do a clean sweep,” said Dale Gieringer, the director of California NORML. “There’s no political support for it. It would be devastating.”

A separate article LA Times article elaborated on the confusion:

Will the federal government target those dispensaries located near schools and parks, as one prosecutor suggested? And if so, does that give a safe harbor to others? Or will prosecutors move against anyone in the marijuana industry who is making a profit, as one U.S. attorney spokesman said they would? Will they go after “large-scale industrial marijuana cultivation centers,” as one Justice Department official said? Can they at least cite a state that they believe does it right and will be left alone?

The San Diego Reader runs lots of medical weed ads

The San Diego Reader runs lots of medical weed ads

In San Diego, nine dispensaries closed in October to avoid penalties for operating within 600 feet of a school, which is illegal under state law. A Union-Tribune article on the closures quotes City Attorney Jan Goldsmith staking out an uncompromising position on medicinal weed:

“Marijuana advocates and their lawyers have been wrong to assume that federal and local laws could be ignored and that cities like San Diego could be strong-armed into looking the other way,” [Goldsmith said in a statement]. “Our job is to enforce the law and we will do it.”

None of the city’s different zones allow for marijuana distribution, meaning all dispensaries in the city are illegal, technically — so officials like Goldsmith eventually could try to close them all.

In Los Angeles, a Superior Court judge recently upheld a city ordinance limiting dispensaries. An article describing the decision notes the city attorney’s office “has invested considerable time and expense in defending the law from a phalanx of lawyers working for dispensaries.”

Jane Usher, the attorney for the city of LA, was more blunt about the cost of the ordinance. “We did become a magnet for massive, voluminous litigation,” she said.

Curiously, Usher and a fellow City of Los Angeles lawyer recently demanded the retraction of a RAND Corporation study that found a 59% average increase in crime in L.A. areas vacated by marijuana dispensaries that the city forced out of business. RAND, a non-profit that bills itself as a source of “objective research services and public policy analysis,” pulled the study and says it is being reviewed.

In a separate showdown of law versus science, the California Medical Association, representing 35,000 doctors in the state, announced last week its support for decriminalizing weed.

The group acknowledged that pot presents some health risks but called for more research into the potential medical value of pot, at the same time saying the costs of criminalization don’t justify the benefits to society.

Legalization of pot now supported by a majority of Americans

Legalization of pot now supported by a majority of Americans

“I wonder what they’re smoking,” responded John Lovell, spokesman for the California Police Chiefs Association, flashing some serious wit. But many cops also support legalization. In 2010, for example, supporters of California’s Proposition 19 included former police chiefs from Los Angeles and San Jose as well as the National Black Police Association, the National Latino Officers Association, and Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

Only 46.5% of voters supported Proposition 19, however. So California state law still falls well short of full-on decriminalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, and federal law still bans the stuff outright. Meanwhile, neither supply of nor demand for marijuana seems to pay much attention to its legal status.

All this means Californians — and particularly San Diego residents — probably should expect more confusion, more dispensary closures, more lawsuits, more prosecutions, and more black market marijuana transactions. Because the official view of pot prosecutions seems to have shifted from “waste of ammo” to something more akin to that conversation in the movie “Traffic” between a drug dealer and a DEA agent:

Traffic movie poster

Coming soon: the same old story

Eduardo Ruiz: Can’t you for a second imagine none of this had happened?  That my drugs had gone through.  What would have been the harm?  A few people get high who are getting high anyway.  Your partner is still alive… Don’t you see this means nothing?  That your whole life is pointless?

Montel Gordon: You’re breaking my heart.

Eduardo Ruiz: The worst thing about you, Monty, is you realize the futility of what you’re doing and you do it anyway.  I wish you could see how transparent you are… You only got to me because you were tipped off by the Juarez Cartel, who’s trying to break into Tijuana.  You’re helping them. You work for a drug dealer too, Monty.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar mike turco October 24, 2011 at 11:17 am

Drug money keeps the criminals going,who then keep law enforcement going. Two forces in society that should be kept to a minimum.
The people are being drained financially and in spirit. Instead of a benefit to society our money goes to enforcement and prisons.
Decriminalize all drugs. Doctors should make drug policy, not politicians.

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avatar Gary Gilmore October 24, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I couldn’t have said that last sentence better.

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avatar Christopher Moore October 24, 2011 at 11:48 am

They’re reflexively preserving every tiny bit of their power, just like you would expect of any grasping ambitious cretin with a little fiefdom of their own.

Sociopaths have always been drawn to positions where they have power over others.

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avatar Manusucks October 24, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Dispensary owners are just black marketeers that have decided to rent out a little commercial space. Their is no difference real difference between so called medical providers and recreational providers except that they have a lawyer on retainer. These are not pharmacists, the product comes from the same place as the “black market”, not grown by doctors or some professional health worker. I can’t believe people want to stick up for these guys. As hard working San diegans we should be happy the government is telling these people you can’t get rich off the sick. Take the money out of the game. Do like Montana and make it illegal to exchange money for medicine. Watch them all voluntarily walk away. Compassionate care fivers my arse. Nice
Title OB swag. Are we slanted maybe a little?

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avatar Dixon Guizot October 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Actually, Manu, I agree 100% that the medicinal marijuana approach seems like it IS being abused by at least some dispensary operators. And I don’t know, but I’d guess that many card-carrying “patients” do not suffer from any of the medical conditions envisioned when Cali voters OKed medical marijuana in 1996.

Still… who cares? Why should you or I or our government care who wants weed? If person X wants to smoke because they have glaucoma and person Y wants to smoke because they’re bored, let them both, I say. Especially if there’s jobs and tax revenues to be had along the way. Do you disagree?

Overall, I wrote this article not “to stick up for” either dispensary operators or marijuana users. I just think readers should be aware that, in a time of unprecedented economic difficulty, some of our leaders are committing more taxpayer resources to fight harmless old marijuana. And as a result, much of the sales currently taking place in dispensaries could end up occurring somewhere else.

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avatar Christopher Moore October 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm

The medical MJ system is a workaround and a compromise to be sure.

Plenty of people do derive genuine medical benefits from the stuff, in my case I have a chronic condition (gastroparesis) that causes crippling nausea, and cannabis is great at minimizing it so I can eat. Full legalization is just a matter of time, but for now, the dispensaries make my life much easier, and I don’t have to deal with shadyass street dealers.

The fact that recreational users use the dispensaries doesn’t really bother me at all, nor am I any more offended that the dispensary operators are making money than I am that my pharmacy is making money, or for that matter anyone else I am paying for goods I use.

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avatar Steve Ruiz October 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Agreed!

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avatar Ben October 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm

“Dispensary owners are just black marketeers that have decided to rent out a little commercial space.”
This is inaccurate. There no “dispensary owners”, dispensaries are all non-profit collectives. There are dispensary directors, just as there are directors of any non-profit.

“Their is no difference real difference between so called medical providers and recreational providers except that they have a lawyer on retainer.”
The difference is that all collectives are groups of patients providing medicine to other patients.

“These are not pharmacists, the product comes from the same place as the “black market”, not grown by doctors or some professional health worker. ”
Pharmacists are not – by law – allowed to dispense medical cannabis as it is a schedule 1 drug (no medical value) according to the Federal Government. Of course that policy is absurd. But doctor’s do issue recommendations for cannabis, and many collectives offer other holistic health education and even free holistic health services (such as yoga, breathing clinics, etc).

Your haven’t supported any of your premises. You’ve only made unfounded claims that illustrate your bias against medical cannabis patients and providers.

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avatar OB Mercy October 25, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Thank you Ben, I could not have said it better.

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avatar Kenloc October 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Great article Shane.Arnold did what he did because he was(and probably still is) a pot smoker. When we elect a President that admits he smoked weed in the past and doesnt see anything wrong with it maybe then he can do for the country what Arnie did for California.
I’m not sure how much tax revenue can be gained from weed to smoke.It is too easily cultivated and people will grow their own.Can’t tax that, but you can tax all of the wonderful items you can make from hemp.That’s a real cash cow we are missing out on.Power companies should be all for legalization.Can you imagine how much more money they would get from home grows alone?

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avatar OB Mercy October 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm

As some of you know from my previous comments, I am a MJ Patient. ‘Nuff said on how I feel about all this. But the Traffic poster for the movie reminded me of when my son and I went to see this film when it was first released. He was on leave from his very dangerous job on the Pac Taclet Team in the Coast Guard here in San Diego. He was on the boarding team (similar to SWAT sharpshooters and such). They did all the major drug busts not only along our coast, but he was being flown around the world to do busts of the big Latin American Drug Cartels in those countries and elsewhere. His stories were harrowing. From Pot to Cocaine, he had busted them all. But his comment after we saw Traffic, has stayed with me all these years. He said that he felt what he was doing in the Coast Guard was a waste of his time. He said we would NEVER be able to stop the flow of any drug into, or out of any country really. He felt that it was a tremendous waste of our country’s resources and time. He said that all drugs should be legalized and that there were much more important things for the Guard to be doing with their time. I am truly disgusted with the conservative nature of the politicians in San Diego above everything else. Northern Cali dispensaries will stay open because they are of a much more liberal atmosphere up there?? I wanted to live here for so many years, but I’m thinking of my near future options now. Manusucks, you are entitled to your opinion, but man u suck!

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avatar malcolm migacz October 25, 2011 at 12:32 pm

It has been a long war and as we know war is about money. The people who make money in this war want to keep it going, at all cost , which is the burden of the american tax payer. Just another government scam, as the most recent example is the poppy fields in Afghanistan being allowed by the american troops. All drugs should be legal, grown in America and taxed. It would save the tax payer billions of dollars.

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