I was driving down Burbank Boulevard in Van Nuys the other day and noticed a new sign outside a cafe. On the billboard was a smiling marijuana leaf and an advertisement for “munchies,” or wraps with names like “Green Crack” and “Lemon Haze” for the low price of $4.20. Oh yeah, the cafe is a couple of doors away from a medical marijuana dispensary.
The sign reminded me, yet again, that California’s medical marijuana system is a total joke. When voters passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, the ballot measure promised a way for patients with cancer, AIDS, glaucoma and other illnesses to use marijuana for pain relief. But in the absence of comprehensive state regulations, the law legalizing medical marijuana has also allowed the de facto legalization of pot for recreational use. That’s led to a widespread ruse in which healthy people who want weed go to a doctor, profess some malady and get a recommendation that allows them to buy marijuana at a dispensary. Compassionate use has become indiscriminate use.
There are two routes to resolve this foolishness: Legalize marijuana for recreational use, which could happen in 2016 if advocates put an initiative on the ballot. Or regulate medical marijuana like, you know, a medicine. That’s the intent of Senate Bill 1262, which was crafted by the League of California Cities and the Police Chiefs Assn. and introduced by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana).
Despite having the support of cities and cops — two interest groups that have opposed previous medical marijuana regulations — the bill has run into major roadblocks in Sacramento.
The bill’s sponsors wanted to crack down on “doctor mills” that churn out medical marijuana recommendations by requiring an ongoing doctor-patient relationship and auditing doctors who wrote more than 100 recommendations in a year. But the California Medical Assn. and patient advocacy groups (along with The Times’ editorial board) raised concerns that the rules would put doctors at risk of federal prosecution and would have made it harder for legitimate medicinal users to get marijuana. Correa dropped those provisions.
SB 1262 also would have required the state Department of Public Health to license growers and dispensaries, and to develop standards to ensure that products aren’t contaminated with bacteria, mold or chemicals. County health departments would have inspected dispensaries to ensure compliance. But legislators want to remove the health department from the bill, leaving no state agency to regulate medical marijuana. Correa could rewrite the bill to include health and safety standards (rather than having a state agency draft them) and let local code enforcement officers handle inspections. But that’s not exactly the comprehensive state regulatory program that was envisioned.
The challenges facing SB 1262 show just how hard it is to impose order and rules on medical marijuana. Medicinal pot is still illegal under federal law, making it complicated for state and local authorities to develop systems to regulate the use and distribution of it. Yet marijuana is readily available to virtually anyone (at least in Los Angeles), and so common in the urban landscape that a “munchies” cafe is no big deal.