Yesterday’s showdown in Tacoma over the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries all but guarantees that the Legislature will finally attempt to resolve the question of whether such business are–or should be– legal. After the city initially threatened to shut the dispensaries down, it agreed last night to hold off until the end of the coming legislative session. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) has already drafted a bill (see pdf) that proposes legalizing dispensaries. A number of fellow legislators, including a former cop and Republican senator named Jerome Delvin, are working with her. “There’s momentum,” says Kohl-Welles.
At the protest I spoke with an older woman who’s authorized to use marijuana to deal with severe muscle spasms that make it difficult for her to walk. I asked her where she’d be able to get her supply of marijuana if her dispensary were to close. She didn’t have an answer. The reality is that our medical marijuana law doesn’t work unless the law provides a safe and legal place for patients to obtain it. The one-patient-per-provider rule has left numerous patients – especially those who are disabled – from being able to obtain medicine. And the opposition to this obvious change is going to come from the same place once again:
On the other side of the spectrum, Rep. Christopher Hurst (D-Enumcluw) says he believes many legislators will oppose any bill that favors dispensaries. “You only need to look south” to California, he says, to realize that the dispensary business is a “sham,” a “nightmare,” and a “disaster.” Instead of serving people with real medical needs, he contends, California’s ubiquitous dispensaries sell pot “to anyone who walks in the door.” He says that’s why Los Angeles, among other jurisdictions, are currently cracking down on dispensaries, even while a broad pot legalization initiative is on the ballot.
California’s system is constantly held up as an example of how medical marijuana leads to “chaos”, but the only evidence of this is that unscrupulous doctors often authorize recreational users for profit. And even with that, California isn’t negatively affected in any way by its dispensary system. In fact, crime rates continue to drop across the state – to levels far lower than in the years before medical marijuana became legal.
That’s the root of the issue here. The more we legitimize this economic activity and bring it out of the shadows, the less violence there is surrounding it. Mexican drug cartels operate in Washington state. When locally-operated dispensaries are prohibited from forming, that just means more of the money goes towards those less afraid to break the law. Whether Representative Hurst understands it or not, what he’s doing is benefiting these organized crime groups.
It may seem hyperbolic to say that Hurst “stands up for the drug cartels”, but that’s unquestionably what’s occurring here. There’s no other way to characterize his position. The experience in Los Angeles, if anything, is an argument to craft realistic regulations for dispensaries (as Oakland and many other California cities did) rather than to follow Hurst’s lead and pretend everything would be better if they didn’t exist. If Los Angeles had set up a smarter method for licensing dispensaries, they’d have a small number of well-regulated dispensaries (again, like Oakland) rather than hundreds of unregulated ones that they’re now having difficulty shutting down.