Drug Policy

The Fine Line Between Pot Fees and Pot Prices


As Brian Doherty noted yesterday, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, along with L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, is now maintaining that all medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal because they sell the drug over the counter. That interpretation of the law has sweeping implications, exposing virtually all of the 800 or so medical marijuana suppliers in L.A. to seizure and prosecution. But Cooley's position differs from those taken by other local officials and by California Attorney General Jerry Brown.

Under state law, patients are allowed to grow marijuana for themselves, or their "primary caregivers" can grow it for them. Last November the California Supreme Court rejected a legal fiction under which many dispensaries had been operating, whereby patients would designate the people selling them marijuana as their primary caregivers. The court said the person who grows marijuana for a patient has to be a bona fide caregiver who is substantially involved in his life and assists him in ways other than supplying the drug. That decision left the "patient collective" as the only legally viable model for dispensaries. Under the 2004 Medical Marijuana Program Act, patients may "associate within the State of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes." In a dispensary that follows this model, the customers are members of the collective/cooperative, and the money they pay for marijuana is their contribution toward covering the operation's expenses. Cooley argues that such collectives are simply for-profit businesses in disguise. But he also seems to be saying that the only way a collective can be legal is if every member contributes time and effort, as opposed to money. That seems like an unreasonable expectation for patients who go to dispensaries precisely because they are not up to the task of growing marijuana for themselves and don't know anyone who is willing and able to do it for them.

Attorney General Brown, by contrast, agrees that medical marijuana suppliers should not be taking in money beyond what's necessary to cover their overhead and operating expenses, but he does not insist that every member of a collective roll up his sleeves and get to work. The guidelines (PDF) Brown issued in August 2008 say a collective should be nonprofit, should not purchase marijuana from illegal sources (effectively meaning the members have to grow their own supply), and should not provide marijuana to nonmembers. But in Brown's view, the marijuana may be "provided free to qualified patients…who are members of the collective or cooperative," "provided in exchange for services rendered to the entity," or "allocated based on fees that are reasonably calculated to cover overhead costs and operating expenses." That last option is essentially the same as over-the-counter sales, although a collective could take the fees in advance as "dues" rather than taking them at the same time it hands over the marijuana. It's doubtful that rearranging the transaction that way would satisfy Cooley.

Cooley, Trutanich, and other Los Angeles officials (along with officials in cannabis-intolerant jurisdictions such as San Diego) are disturbed by the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries, which they believe are largely or mostly selling pot for recreational use. But since it is notoriously easy to obtain a doctor's recommendation for marijuana in California, even insisting that patients get their pot through genuine collectives (however those are defined) will not prevent people from getting high under the cover of taking their medicine. Yet restricting the ability of doctors to recommend marijuana, aside from violating their right to free speech, would prevent some bona fide patients from obtaining the medicine that relieves their pain, nausea, or other symptoms. The situation reminds me of a conversation I had back in 1993 with Lester Grinspoon, a leading expert on the therapeutic uses of cannabis (and author, with James Bakalar, of Marihuana: The Forbidden Medicine). Grinspoon had concluded that the only way to make marijuana available to all the patients who could benefit from it would be to legalize it generally. He foresaw what would happen if marijuana were legal for medical but not recreational use:

The problems connected with that are so vast that it will not work…. Everybody will be going to the doctor and saying, "Oh, I've got a backache, I've got this, I've got that." The doctors are not going to want to be gatekeepers.

In California, it's not the doctors so much as the cops and prosecutors who are complaining. But the freedom they fear may prove difficult to contain. When I interviewed him for that 1993 article, Richard Cowan, then director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, told me that allowing people to openly obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes would irrevocably change the dynamics of the debate:

The cat will be out of of the bag. That is going to totally change the dynamics of the issue….lf we get medical access, we're going to get legalization eventually. The narcocracy knows this; it's the reason they fight it so much.

NEXT: Columbia Journalism Review: "There are very few good conservative reporters"

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  1. Sorry for the off-topic, but Obama’s got the Nobel. For peace.
    I’m staggered!

  2. I missed the earlier thread (baitin’) so I’ll just leave the comment here.

    The drug warriors and the government worshippers (trying to control every aspect of your life from TV volume the price of soda pap) have allied themselves to combat the weed from the devil’s garden and unregulated commerce respectively. It’s a rearguard action that will FAIL!

    1. WHOA, hold up. So the gov’t is the reason commercials on TBS/TNT are 10x louder than the programming?

      1. Damn, nevermind. Not on the ball today. And should prolly start reading hit&run; bottom to top.

        nothing to see here, move along

  3. It was easier for the sick to get pot when pot was illegal. What a joke.

  4. A few points. These trials would be in State court. Unlike the kangaroo court known as Federal Court, whoever it is that this pig Cooley decides to prosecute can use Medical marijuana as a defense…maybe.

    I would that that in LA county, it would be a lot harder to get a jury to convict.

  5. It’s good to see that they’ve rid LA and California of all other types of crime, filled every pothole, fed all the hungry, sheltered all the homeless, balanced the budget and, found a home for every stray dog and cat in the state.

    It must be nice to have so much excess that they can spend precious state resources busting a bunch of cancer stricken grannies and glaucoma patients.

  6. It must be nice to have so much excess that they can spend precious state resources busting a bunch of cancer stricken grannies and glaucoma patients.

    The police need to maintain disorder. Can’t do that without a healthy dose of fear.

  7. Make a sentence with the following words: hate i horse a dead beat to but

    As Brian Doherty noted yesterday, Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, along with L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, is now maintaining that all medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal because they sell the drug over the counter.

    The court said the person who grows marijuana for a patient has to be a bona fide caregiver who is substantially involved in his life and assists him in ways other than supplying the drug.

    Because inserting marijuana into a category where the government is salivating to regulate in an ever draconian way is such a great idea.

    I stand by my assertion that medicalizing marijuana is the straight path to hell.

    1. Paul really, “…the straight path to hell,” oh right the “demon weed,” the thing that causes people to act violent and destructive….you’re not referring to alcohol by mistake are you. Cannabis is already and has been apart of medical practice long before the DEA got the great idea to give it a slanderous/raciest face. By ALL accounts even the ones the DEA has destroyed, even the ones that have come out recently outside this country, all point to the fact that cannabis is safe, non-toxic, and even cancer fighting. Not to mention that its a whole of a hell lot better than alcohol is to our bodies. http://jackherer.com/chapters.html Paul you should really do a little research. This country was built on HEMP, the bible was written on HEMP, the reason we are the United States of America was because of our countries ability to grow HEMP, the sails/rope/and almost everything on Columbus’s ships were made from HEMP, he even brought cannabis-sativa, as did most explores, with him to the new country. Jefferson had a ton of acres of HEMP and other strains of cannabis. This plant has been apart of our species evolution for THOUSANDS upon THOUSANDS of years. This problem image and problem that exist today was created by our government in order to protect interests of big business, as it is today. There is nothing demon about cannabis only what your keen has made it to be. Fabricated/falsified/slanderous all for what? So that a plant couldn’t be grown by whom ever where ever and not be regulated or controlled. Yet it is the solution. Our system is designed around the idea that if you want something to solve your problems you have to pay for it, and it has to be regulated by us.

      If Cannabis could help people deal with cancer or even reduce it’s effects, and didn’t cost an arm and leg, would the government want that? That’s one ailment there are whole host of others. The demon is the one who controls solutions and extorts them so that people can’t get them. The demon is the one who arrests 800k people last year alone for non-violent crimes. The demon is the one who removes testimony from record to continue this war. The demon is the one who holds more people in prison than the entire population of the prisoners of the rest of the countries combined.

      This is just another reason so the trigger happy swat team can kick down doors of more non-violent offenders with reasonable cause. I am sure they are just acting on the side of the compassionate higher being whom they have translated his words directly into right and wrong.

      1. Wow. You completely missed the point. He is not saying legalizing pot is bad, just that making it part of the healthcare system is going to do more harm than good for those who want to smoke.

      2. The cops are SCARED and ANGRY. You see, their forfure money is being threatened. I wonder who profits from forfietures? Guess! Junkies don’t have assets (nice cars, houses, and bank accounts); neither do meth heads. But medical marijuana patients do; people who provide their medicine do, also. MUCH SAFER to handcuff a medical marijuana patient than bust a thief or burgler, or a car prowler or thief. Then, there’s big pharma…like medical marijuana proponents, big pharma realizes that people who use medical marijuana as medicine get better symptom relief, with far fewer side effects. Could cost big pharma some of their billions profits. Then there’s the “threat” from hemp! Paper companies don;t want their millions of acres of forrest land devalued. The potential of using hemp for biodiesel scares the pjeepers out of big oil. What if people smoked pot, instead of drink Budwieser…or Jack Daniels? Can’t have that: there might be less people getting hurt/killed on our highways from drunk drivers (gotta keep those hospitals busy)…or less domestic violence.

      3. Wow !!!! I could not poke one hole in anything you said. People are slowly waking up from the hypnotic spell the government has cast for the past 50+ years that they somehow have more say and control over our bodies than we do. It wouldn’t be so bad from a health standpoint but the drug laws have cause more harm, damage and deaths than the drugs themselves !

  8. lf we get medical access, we’re going to get legalization eventually.

    God love him, but he’s wrong. You’re gonig to end up with a Schedule II narcotic which will cause every prosecutor to look over the shoulder of every Doctor every time it’s prescribed. The interference in the private relationship between doctor and patient will forever be doomed to a regulatory nightmare, with the threat of prosecution and jail time hanging over every script.

    1. I see your point, but I think you’re wrong. Because dried flowers can’t be regulated like pills. The Controlled Substances Act is nothing less than rent for the pharmaceutical industry. They can (and have) put THC in a pill. However, too many people know that the dried flowers are better and cheaper. Small scale growing is already wide spread. I don’t think the Genii goes back in the bottle.

  9. Since the state is taking sales taxes from the dispensaries aren’t they part of a criminal conspiracy?

  10. Then all medicine should be co-op. Nobody should have to pay the inflated costs for medicine. Why is okay if I go to Walgreens or CVS and pay $80 dollars for some medicine that is probably going to cause complications one way or another in the future, rather than go to a dispensary and pick out my non-toxic medicine, which in the whole scheme of things is the best thing for most ailments.

    It’s truly sad to see self righteous government officials who will imprison, deny access, and spread slanderous lies all so they can exert power during the end of their careers. All for what so you can make it harder for people who have serious ailments, and people who chose cannabis over alcohol.

    There is a liquor store on every block where you can buy cigarettes and alcohol some within a 1000ft of school; a coffee shop every half mile with 800 calorie drinks that are killing our population, and these dispensaries are not havens for anything but the peaceful transfer of a medicine that doesn’t kill, and takes time to cultivate.

    1. Asthma control meds that may cause asthma-related death = OK

      Anti-Depressants that may cause suicidal thoughts = Ok

      Pot = Bad.

      Well, i’m convinced.

    2. Well, it does look like the law was written in such a way that Cooley might be correct, from a legal standpoint. The solution is to fix the law.

  11. Pot prohibition is going down. We’re seeing the death throes of the WODs. I can feel it. Though I doubt it will go beyond pot. Even so, I think the whole WOD with the armies and the weapons and the killing is about to be won. If we’ll ever undue the damage done to the Bill of Rights, Odin only knows.

  12. Is it any wonder the state of California is bankrupt and being run into the ground?

  13. Since the local cops are departing from the AG’s opinion on how the law should be interpreted and enforced, I suggest the AG seek a restraining order against them.

    That way, this gets sorted out directly, without having to wait for some poor schlub to get arrested, and the court can issue a remedy that matters.

  14. Ares – no one here (who is not a troll) thinks that marijuana should be illegal. The solution, however, isn’t going to come by demonizing drugs that are already legal. It’s going to come by consistently pointing out that 1) adults have a right to take whatever substance they want, so long as they do not violate anyone’s rights to obtain it; and then 2) pointing out that marijuana is probably the least harmful recreational drug in existence, with the possible exception of caffeine.

    1. I think pointing out the false dichotomy as regards to harm is a valid point to keep bringing up.

  15. What kind of sick nonsense is this:

    1) If weed is distributed through a socialist-utopian system that Chairman Mao would have endorsed, especially if all members are poor and ashamed, then the cops approve.

    2) If weed is distributed in an open market where buyers and sellers agree on prices and terms, and competition helps improve quality and access, then the weed becomes evil.

    Must capitalism be evil at all times? Someone really forgot to teach this generation that free markets are a good idea.

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  18. I’m so sick and tired of hearing of “medical marijuana.” I voted for it here in California for the purpose of helping cancer patients to build up their appetite. Young and older people use it for any “fake” ailment to get the drug. I went through hell with my daughter’s usage that created mental disorders, psychosis, hallucinations, nightmares, paranoid, extremely rebellious, argumentative, and not focused in life. Thank God, she found herself experience a bad reaction with the drug that made her realize that it was the marijuana. Our nation is so “stupid” not to enjoy life on a natural high, but instead, to continue taking drugs for their gratification and destroy their lives as well affecting their families.

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