Police in California have long expressed displeasure with the state's medical marijuana laws. And with good reason: Cops might have the legal right to haul into court medical marijuana merchants who exchange cash for cannabis. But then again, they might not.
Much police behavior depends on the mood of the local police chief or county sheriff. Either way, pot providers thusly busted then howl in court that their papers are in order and their sales tax bills are proof that they're a legitimate enterprise and not a criminal front.
How are the police -- and the folks they're sworn to protect and serve -- to figure out what to do, when the laws themselves are deemed inadequate? State Sen. Mark Leno wants to lend a hand. The San Francisco Democrat is pushing a law that expressly allows sales -- and "reasonable compensation incurred for services provided" -- while forbidding "excess" profits.
This is seen as the best possible compromise to ensure the state's
medical cannabis users -- the ones who don't have a pot farm of their
own -- can acquire their medicine, and that providers don't need to give
it away for free (dirt, seed, and PG&E bills aren't free). But not
by the powerful police lobby in Sacramento: A coalition representing
police chiefs, county sheriffs and local cops (mostly from Southern
California) is fighting the measure -- and may succeed in killing
the bill before it can be heard this legislative session.
Even Leno agrees that the law as written is inadequate. "The legality of entities such as medical cannabis dispensaries ... and their ability to be compensated for their services, is ambiguous under current law," his office writes.
1996's Proposition 215 only gave the right for "patients" to "obtain and use" marijuana, with no clear explanation of how to do either; 2003's SB 420 allowed for users to associate into collectives, but did not expressly allow storefront dispensaries or delivery services -- which some California cities and counties allow, and which others expressly forbid.
Leno's bill, SB 1182, makes it so that any collective or other entity dispensing cannabis within the guidelines written in 2008 by then-Attorney General Jerry Brown can receive compensation for costs incurred. Brown's guidelines, while not law per se, are seen as gospel in court by prosecutors, which makes them the next best thing.
The bill passed a Senate committee earlier this month on a 5-2 vote and is waiting to be heard on the full Senate floor -- which it may not get. A coalition of police interests, including the California Narcotic Officers' Association and the California Police Chiefs Association, insists that the bill allows for profiteering, and are coming out against it. No California state lawmaker can easily survive being dubbed soft on crime, so the opposition may doom the bill before it is debated.
A spokeswoman for Leno said the senator is hopeful the bill will be called this session, but the deadline looms. It must be heard before June 1, or it dies.
"Proposition 215 is very clear that marijuana may be cultivated or provided by qualified patients, or by caregivers," the cops write in their argument against SB 1182. "Proposition 215 did not authorize cultivation or distribution of marijuana by any other entities."
Maybe not. But what about SB 420? Or Brown's guidelines? Leno's bill would appear to set the record straight. If only the police would allow it.
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