The Rev. Scott Imler was coauthor of Proposition 215 and founder of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, Southern California's first patient-based medical marijuana cooperative.
Problems? Sure. But there's no denying the incredible success
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Counterpoint: Stephen Gutwillig
Is Proposition 215 vaguely worded? Yes. Are there instances where the system is abused? Yes. Could the laws be improved? Of course. But what Proposition 215 has accomplished in the 13 years since its passage is nothing short of incredible.
Almost 200,000 patients in California are now able to obtain medical marijuana to treat a variety of medical conditions and relieve pain. Hundreds of legitimate collectives provide patients with safe, effective and affordable medical marijuana. Many patients no longer have to risk arrest by turning to the black market. Twelve other states have followed California's lead to enact laws of their own, allowing patients to obtain medical marijuana safely far beyond California's borders.
A major criticism of Proposition 215 -- as you point out, Scott -- is its vague wording. I agree. However, the law has since been clarified through several rulings of the California Supreme Court and through the passage of subsequent laws by the Legislature. Additionally, many cities and counties have enacted local laws and regulations aimed at creating guidelines and models to suit differing communities' needs. Finally, just last year, California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown issued guidelines that further clarify the specifics of the medical marijuana laws. These guidelines serve to advise patients, caregivers, collectives and law enforcement.
Another criticism of Proposition 215 is that anyone can obtain a recommendation for medical marijuana at any time for practically any ailment, as you suggest. Of course there have been abuses, but doctors and patients have largely been successful in figuring out how and when medical marijuana is appropriate. Unfortunately, as the result of federal prohibition and interference with medical marijuana research, there has not been extensive research into the effectiveness of medical marijuana for many medical conditions. Thus, California doctors and patients are charting their own course.
The best evidence that medical marijuana laws are working well and not causing serious problems is that public support for medical marijuana has actually increased in states with medical marijuana laws. Proposition 215 received 56% of the vote in 1996. Now, according to several polls, about 75% of Californians support medical marijuana.
Scott, you and I certainly agree that Holder's announcement that the federal government would allow the states latitude to run their medical marijuana programs is good news. But while you are concerned that a lack of federal pressure may encourage "black marketeers" to swoop in and abuse the system, I am convinced that this move will lead to greater state control, not less, over medical marijuana in the long run.
This is because the biggest obstacle to the successful regulation of state medical marijuana programs has always been federal law and federal law enforcement. State medical marijuana laws were drafted primarily in an effort to avoid conflicts with federal law and to make it least likely that patients would become victims of federal raids and prosecutions. States will closely regulate medical marijuana if the federal government will let them -- as it now appears it will.
Now that patients and providers no longer face the risk of prosecution and arrest by the federal government, California can begin an open and honest dialogue about how to best improve state-level medical marijuana laws and how to best create a system that places patients' needs and safety first.
Stephen Gutwillig is California director for the Drug Policy Alliance.