Chronic City: Darkness In San Diego -- Attack On Medical Marijuana Moving Northward

Courtesy Donna Lambert
San Diego medical Marijuana patient Donna Lambert was arrested in Operation Green Rx as part of the "crackdown."
First, we heard from ambitious, headline-seeking San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis that there are "no such things" as legal medical Marijuana dispensaries, despite state law. Now, even as a brutal crackdown on providers and patients is underway in San Diego County, officials from Los Angeles and other counties are being influenced by San Diego's anti-weed brigade to implement their hardline policies further north.

At a Long Beach City Council meeting yesterday, City Prosecutor Tom Reeves was still flushed with anti-ganja fervor as he told the council of attending a summit last week held by L.A. County DA Steve Cooley, where the message was that all dispensaries are illegal and will be prosecuted. What this means, he told the council, is that Long Beach can't or shouldn't try to regulate dispensaries.
Hardliner Long Beach prosecutor Tom Reeves: "You can't regulate illegal businesses."
​ "Over-the-counter sales are illegal," Reeves flatly stated. "So you're not helping us any," Councilwoman Tonia Reyes Uranga repied. "I'm helping you a great deal," Reeves snapped. "I just told you that you can't regulate illegal businesses."

So even as city governments in places like Long Beach honestly try to grapple with the real issues surrounding regulation and recognition of medical Marijuana dispensaries -- including possibilities like taxation, on-site inspections and regulations similar to liquor stores or adult businesses -- their "legal experts" and law enforcement officials are giving them monumentally bad advice which seems to be in conflict with state law.

Not surprisingly, since those present couldn't agree on whether such a thing as a legal dispensary even exists, the Long Beach council didn't find a solution after two hours of discussion, and will continue wrestling with the issue at a future meeting.

San Diego: Bitter Intransigence and Stubborn Refusal

DA Bonnie M. Dumanis (sized).jpg
Office of Bonnie Dumanis
San Diego DA Bonnie Dumanis: arrest 'em all and let the courts sort it out
San Diego County officials have simply refused to abide by the will of the voters and accept the state's medical Marijuana law. For 13 years now, since the passage of Proposition 215 by voters in 1996, and even since the law was clarified and expanded by the Legislature with SB 420 in 2004, they've been fighting the practical implementation of legal medical Marijuana.

The notoriously conservative San Diego County Board of Commissioners is well known for its irrational opposition to medical pot, even pursuing a quixotic and hopeless challenge to the law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, losing the case in every court that heard it, every step of the way.

Last week, the Board unanimously extended for 10 more months what had been a 45-day moratorium on new dispensaries in unincorporated areas of San Diego County. After its court challenge to the law was defeated, the Board began grudgingly issuing ID cards for medical Marijuana users. But in the meantime, DA Dumanis has sent her raiders to shut down dispensaries and arrest their owners, creating a climate of fear and confusion among patients countywide.

The latest raids forced at least 14 dispensaries to close, and resulted in at least 33 arrests. Dumanis assembled strike forces of San Diego Police, San Diego County Sheriff's officers, DEA agents, and IRS agents to descend on the dispensaries, make arrests, seize cash and pot, and disrupt the local medical Marijuana distribution system. Many patients who had come to depend on safe, legal access to the medicine recommended by their doctors were left in the lurch.

"I don't think Bonnie Dumanis has ever seen a 'legal dispensary' in 13 years," said Dion Markgraff, San Diego coordinator for Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "She can't follow the plain language of the law, but instead she holds some impossible standard that no one else knows about. The DA is sending in cops who lied to doctors to get valid recommendations, and then busting dispensaries that are operating according to the law."

"The question in court is, 'Can one medical Marijuana patient help another and be exempt from sales charges?' " patient Donna Lambert, arrested back in February in the "Operation Green Rx" phase of Dumanis' crackdown, told the SF Weekly. "The answer is a clear yes, but San Diego has not yet accepted that. For a total of two quarter ounces of Marijuana, they did a SWAT-style raid on my home, pointed assault rifles at me and tore my house apart," she said. Lambert is still fighting her case in court.

San Diego attorney Patrick Dudley has represented people accused of illegal use of medical Marijuana. "Most people would say that the last battleground for medical Marijuana is San Diego," Dudley told NPR

Under state law, medical Marijuana patients and primary caregivers may "associate within the State of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate Marijuana for medical purposes" (§ 11362.775). But according to Dudley, San Diego law enforcement has shown no inclination to help dispensaries understand how to follow the law. Their approach, he says, is to arrest first and ask questions later.

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