Backlash Endangers California Pot Dispensaries

  Backlash Endangers California Pot Dispensaries

Posted by CN Staff on December 19, 2007 at 21:42:47 PT
By Heather Won Tesoriero  
Source: Wall Street Journal 

Santa Barbara, Calif. -- For years, when sought relief from her frequent bouts of anxiety, she went to the Compassionate Center of Santa Barbara and ordered from a marijuana menu that featured chocolate pecan truffles and cannabis strains with names like Purple Urkle and Sweet and Sour. But the Compassionate Center shut down at the end of October, and the 54-year-old Ms. Seaboyer -- who says she has suffered from epilepsy since childhood -- is considering going back to clandestine street purchasing. "I wouldn't want to, but if I have no other choice that's what I'd have to do," she says.
Californians legalized marijuana for medical use in 1996 when they passed Proposition 215. But a recent crackdown in this Southern California enclave and elsewhere in the state by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration has forced a number of dispensaries out of business and highlighted the awkward tension between state and federal laws.California has an estimated 300 medical-marijuana dispensaries, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit group that backs medical use of the drug. Their number rose sharply after a 2003 state Senate bill strengthened the 1996 law. Initially confined to big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, the dispensaries cropped up in smaller communities across the state.Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Ynez Mountains, Santa Barbara is known for being one of the poshest communities in the nation. In the past few years, it also became home to a thriving medical-marijuana business. The city's new cottage industry really started to flourish a year ago, when the city council passed Measure P, an order mandating that pot arrests should be the Santa Barbara Police Department's lowest priority and that a city-appointed board must review all such arrests. Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum says 10 new dispensaries sought licenses to operate in town, which brought the total figure to about 15 for a population of just 90,000.But the sudden sprouting caused some problems, and they got worse a few months ago, when an incident outside a dispensary drew a public outcry. was teaching a flamenco class when a gang fight erupted in front of a dispensary two doors down, forcing parents strolling by with their children to seek refuge in the courtyard of her dance studio. Appalled, Ms. Vega and more than 100 other concerned residents gathered for a neighborhood meeting to air their complaints.The incident increased the tension between people like Ms. Vega, who want the dispensaries closed, and patients and their doctors, who say the sites offer a safe, appropriate environment in which to purchase cannabis to alleviate various ailments.Joseph Rodino, 56, a former masonry manager, bought his marijuana from the same dispensary as Ms. Seaboyer. He says he needs it to stimulate his appetite and relieve discomfort from Hepatitis C, a virus that afflicts the liver and causes pain and fatigue. Mr. Rodino, who formerly bought the drug on the street from dealers, says the dispensaries do away with "all the furtive sneaking around and that whole drug-world sort of thing by making this a really simple business transaction for something that you need."But Ms. Vega doesn't buy that argument. She says the dispensary next to her studio, called Acme, became a magnet for the same riffraff that street dealers attract. The only difference, she says, is it had the veneer of being a legal business. "It wasn't people with cancer who needed it. They were hoodlums," she says.Acme's owner, , says the problem wasn't as bad as Ms. Vega makes it out to be and that last summer's fight had nothing to do with the dispensary itself. The nearby "low-income housing has something to do with gang members, not Acme," he says.In any case, the growing controversy has prompted the Santa Barbara City Council to impose a moratorium on new dispensaries. The city is currently developing draft ordinances to regulate the dispensaries that the City Council will vote on in the coming months. It is considering a conditional use-fee permit that would restrict dispensaries to areas away from schools, homes and parks. "That's most of our city, so it's challenging," says Mayor Blum.Patrick Fourmy, one of the Compassionate Center's founders, maintains that his dispensary offered a legitimate medical service. The center had 3,000 clients, including, he says, people from "the district attorney's office, the police department and chief executive officers from Fortune 500 companies." Patients there were served only if they had a doctor's "recommendation." (By law, prescriptions can be written only for FDA-approved medications.) Since the center's storefront closed, it has been operating a delivery service while it tries to reopen a brick-and-mortar establishment.But the Food and Drug Administration maintains that marijuana offers no health benefits and that its possession and sale remain banned by federal law. Last year, the FDA issued an advisory with other federal agencies stating that "no sound scientific studies" support medical use of the drug.The dispensaries' critics have found an ally in the federal government. When the DEA, which has raided about 70 dispensaries in the state since 2001, issued notices to Santa Barbara dispensary landlords threatening to seize their properties, several operations closed, including Mr. Mowrer's Acme. He says his mother owns the property, and he doesn't want to risk losing it.Joshua Braun, 30, owned another local dispensary, Hortipharm Caregivers, for 2½ years, but in light of the recent actions by federal authorities, he says, he turned the business over to others. Mr. Braun thought Measure P and the initial acceptance by Santa Barbara's community would insulate him from such problems, but he says the federal government has found an effective tool to discourage the business."Landlords here have a lot more to lose," says Mr. Braun. "They're going to lose a building not worth $200,000 but $2 million."Write to Heather Won Tesoriero at:  heather.tesoriero Source: Wall Street Journal (US) Author: Heather Won TesorieroPublished: December 19, 2007Copyright: 2007 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Contact: wsj.ltrs Website: CannabisNews Medical Marijuana Archives

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Comment #14 posted by FoM on December 21, 2007 at 18:26:42 PT
Related Article from The Associated Press
Dellums Wants DEA To Stop Threatening Pot Club Landlords
 December 21, 2007 OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - Mayor Ronald Dellums is upset that the Drug Enforcement Agency is threatening landlords who lease space to medical marijuana dispensaries as a way of cracking down on the shops that are legal under California law.Several clinics throughout the state are being evicted by property owners who have been told they could be brought up on federal drug charges and have their buildings seized for aiding in the distribution of an illegal drug.Dellums, a former congressman, sent a letter yesterday to the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee asking for help getting the DEA to back off.A medical marijuana advocacy group says the oldest dispensary in San Francisco, the Compassionate Care clinic in the Castro District, is scheduled to shut down today after being evicted by a fearful landlord.Meanwhile, lawmakers in Merced County voted this week to permanently ban pot clubs from opening there. California voters passed a proposition legalizing medicinal marijuana in 1996, but several counties and cities have outlawed dispensaries within their borders.Copyright 2007 The Associated Press
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Comment #13 posted by Hope on December 21, 2007 at 08:02:45 PT
That's good to hear EJ.
You've been on my mind with all that trouble out in California for the dispensaries. I'm so glad you're doing ok. Merry Christmas, EJ, to you and yours.(You know, that little stink last year about not saying "Merry Christmas", actually had a good effect. Out shopping yesterday, I heard so many people saying "Merry Christmas" to people, in person and on their cell phones. It really is amazing. I like it.)I've been humming little bits of "Happy Holidays" this morning. It's nice.
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Comment #12 posted by E_Johnson on December 20, 2007 at 22:46:52 PT
Merry Christmas everyone
I'm fine. Everything's okay so far.
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Comment #11 posted by FoM on December 20, 2007 at 18:47:35 PT
You're right.
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Comment #10 posted by LaGuardia on December 20, 2007 at 17:30:03 PT
I think that Nixon started civil asset forfeiture, but the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations made greater use of it. 
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Comment #9 posted by Max Flowers on December 20, 2007 at 14:11:17 PT
It's very interesting that you mention the "hood syndrome" as I have noticed this many times as well. I think it comes down to the fact that over the years the "hoodie" (hooded sweatshirts) has become a de rigeur clothing item for gang members and *actual* hoodlums (see, HOODlums!). In other words, statistically and undeniably a lot of violent crime over time has unfortunately been committed by people who wear hoods, so the natural reaction gets created to regard people with hoods partially obscuring their faces as potential criminals. Then there was that famous composite sketch of the Unibomber wearing a hood, and that didn't help either. It could go even deeper into the human subconscious, what with scary archetypal figures such as the Grim Reaper and medieval executioners making them famous long before gang members did.I have to admit that even I watch things a little closer when a guy in a hood is nearby... I am programmed in the same way. But I also own a rain jacket that has a hood, and I also have seen this reaction to me when I have the hood up (people looking twice and sort of veering away from me). But I'm not going to let my head get all wet in the rain just so other people don't have a fear reaction.Just another weird aspect of life in these United Fearful States.
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Comment #8 posted by Hope on December 20, 2007 at 09:51:16 PT

It is good to see you post. I hope you are doing well.
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Comment #7 posted by dongenero on December 20, 2007 at 08:43:13 PT

what about walgreens and CVS?
I would bet there are far more pharmacies than MM dispensaries in Santa Barbara.I have 2 Walgreens and 2 CVS pharmacies within a 5 square block area. Two of them are right across the street from each other. Go figure. They are worried about 1 dispensary per 6000 people. My area must have a ratio of about 1 pharmacy per 500 people.Everyone jokes about it but, no talk of ordinances or moratoriums on that.
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Comment #6 posted by Sam Adams on December 20, 2007 at 08:30:27 PT

yes EJ
I had the exact same thought 2 paragraphs in - holy cow, the WSJ NEVER would have printed this before Murdoch bought them out.  It has always been one of the few papers with raging anti-medical MJ editorials. As for the article, I'd love to see what some people's definition of "hoodlum" is. Watch out, this type of classist fearmongering is exactly how our police state is imposed. Very quickly we've moved from a pre-WWII society of swarms of people living with each other in the city and on the city streets. Smoking tobacco and dodging piles of horseshit. Gathering at loud taverns and live shows and theaters. To today's hyper-clean police state world where the rich call the cops if they even have to LOOK at a person they don't want to look at. Better to huddle inside with the big-screen TV than to face your neighbors and the rest of humanity.I recently walked around a suburbun town in the rain with my $300 Gore-tex ski jacket, I dropped the over-sized hood over my head.  I was shocked as several people walking by openly glared at me in hate and took three steps away as I approached! I couldn't believe my eyes. People in this country are being brainwashed into a permanent state of fear of anyone who doesn't match the grinning, consumerist slave people in the commercials they watch.It just amazes me. It's not your neighbor that's going to mug you. It's the government that takes more and more out of your paycheck every year for their hare-brained foreign and domestic crusades and attendant bureaucracies. they are the biggest criminals, not your neighbor who's going to buy a sandwich in his rain jacket.
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Comment #5 posted by FoM on December 20, 2007 at 08:18:45 PT

EJ, It's Good To See You
The times they are a changin.Merry Christmas!
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Comment #4 posted by E_Johnson on December 20, 2007 at 08:12:09 PT

Is this the Wall Street Journal?
Whoa, this is the Wall Street Journal?THANK YOU RUPERT MURDOCH!!!They never would have done a story like this before he took over.I feel faint. This is a shock. But a good one.
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Comment #3 posted by goneposthole on December 20, 2007 at 07:18:53 PT

Did 'Duke' Cunningham's son lose everything?I don't think so.It is a selective process. If you have a famous name or a political connection, you're off the hook. If not, you're a scoundrel and a rogue.
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Comment #2 posted by FoM on December 20, 2007 at 06:42:16 PT

I agree it must go. Wasn't it Reagan that started asset forfeitures?
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Comment #1 posted by LaGuardia on December 20, 2007 at 05:47:06 PT

Civil Asset Forfeiture Has to Go!
Not the most "fair and balanced" article that I have ever read, but pretty good coming from a historically conservative paper that is now Rupert Murdoch-owned. Much better than the marijuana-related reporting in the Times of London (which is right out of Reefer Madness). At least it presents both sides of the story.As for the landlords, I hope that their lawyers can successfully argue that forfeiture of a $2 million building because the landlord RENTED to a dispensary violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on excessive fines.The Second Circuit recently ruled that the Eighth Amendment barred the Feds from seizing a $248,000 house owned by a husband and wife in which the trial court found that the wife only turned a blind eye to her husband's pot growing activities and did not participate herself. The "fine" of losing the house was reasonable for the husband but not for the wife, therefore she got to keep her half of the house (albeit with the Feds as her new co-owner).It seems to me that the landlords share a degree of vicarious non-liability similar to that of the wife in the Second Circuit case. An article about that case is below.But hey, DEA will try anyway because $2 million could sure pay a lot of DEA agent salaries! If marijuana is legally sold by licensed businesses not subject to DEA enforcement, there would be a lot less property for DEA to seize, and a lot less money with which to line their own pockets and spend on their military-style gear and other toys. They sure do love this "war!" Awfully good for business in the law enforcement sector!If Congress gets rid of civil asset forfeiture, then DEA and other law enforcement agencies will likely reduce their lobbying against marijuana reform efforts. As it is, they have too much money from asset forfeiture to lose. There just are not enough users and distributors of other drugs for them to keep up the lucrative business of property seizure at its current, profitable levels. So whatever happened to the Fifth Amendment: "nor be deprived of life, liberty, or PROPERTY , without due process of law; nor shall private PROPERTY be taken for public use, without just compensation?"And the Eighth Amendment: "nor excessive FINES imposed . . . ?"This civil asset forfeiture stuff really makes me mad. It is the root of the persistent war against marijuana. Take away the civil asset forfeiture and there simply is not as big of an incentive for the police and DEA to be in the business of busting harmless members of the marijuana economy.  We need either a legislative or a judicial solution to this arguably unconstitutional, and certainly unconscionable, practice. 
Eighth Amendment and Civil Asset Forfeiture 2d Cir Case
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