“The policy of this state is Looney Tunes,” said Los Angeles Police Department chief, William Bratton in April concerning the Obama administration’s refusal to stop raids in marijuana-friendly states.
“They pass a law, then they have no regulations as to how to enforce the darn thing and, as a result, we have hundreds of these locations selling drugs to every Tom, Dick and Harry,” Bratton said.
Since then, the LAPD, with support from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has undertaken multiple raids on legal marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles County.
These raids reached their zenith and sparked public outrage when, in late August, a task force of LAPD, DEA, and FBI agents raided two marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles and Culver City as well as the owners’ houses. They confiscated over 450 lbs of legally grown marijuana and offered the press no explanation for the arrests and raids. These federally-prompted raids stand in stark contrast to Attorney General Eric Holder’s statements in March when he promised that the DEA’s efforts would “go after those people who violate both federal and state law. Given the limited resources that we have, our focus will be on people, organizations that are growing, cultivating substantial amounts of marijuana and doing so in a way that’s inconsistent with federal and state law.”
Until recently, the legal battle over marijuana was most heavily fought in Los Angeles proper. The fight did eventually spread further south into Orange County and on Sept. 15, a peaceful crowd of 75 marijuana proponents from various dispensaries and pro-marijuana organizations held a rally at Lake Forest city hall. The crowd was composed of representatives for patients with AIDS, cancer, chronic pain and nerve issues as well as organizations such as Medical Marijuana Inc. and the Orange County chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), had hoped for 500 people, but were satisfied with the turnout. The rally was in response to lawsuits filed on Sept. 1 by the Lake Forest City Council against 14 marijuana dispensaries within the city and calling for their immediate removal.
“We will initiate prosecution against the operators and landlords of these dispensaries operating in violation of federal law and violation of the city’s zoning code,” said City Attorney, Scott Smith. “They are not permitted in any area of the city.”
The issue of legalization in California goes back as far as November 5, 1996, when 56% of California’s voters approved Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act. This law essentially absolved Californians of Sections 11357 and 11358, allowing them to cultivate, consume, and sell marijuana “upon the written or oral recommendation or approval of a physician.”
This measure was more or less accepted until 2005, when the Supreme Court case of Gonzalez v. Raich contested it.
The ruling of that case stated that under the Federal Controlled Substances Act, the sale, consumption, and cultivation of marijuana, even medical marijuana, was illegal.
Citing the ninth amendment of the Constitution, the California Attorney General opined that federal marijuana laws do not trump state marijuana laws, which thus allowed the maintenance of medical marijuana collectives and dispensaries.
As the fights for and against marijuana radiate further out of Los Angeles, there looms the possibility that dispensaries deeper within Orange County will feel the ripples.
While AIDS, cancer, and chronic illness are the main conditions for which medical marijuana is prescribed, it has also been shown to ease more common problems like insomnia and various eating disorders. Despite college stereotypes, some UCI students with legitimate medical marijuana cards have also spoken out.
“It’s so different from any other drug. I mean, I’ve done everything –psychedelic mushrooms, ecstasy, cocaine, you’re absolutely in control with weed.” said one UCI student and medical marijuana cardholder. The student agreed to speak to the New University under the name John for legal reasons. “[The government and anti-marijuana organizations] don’t need to lie to people to put fear into them.”
John, who has been smoking marijuana since he was 16 and graduated high school with a 3.9 GPA, got his card earlier this year.
“It’s less of a hassle,” John said. “You know you’re getting good, safe stuff from a legal source instead of getting it from some shady guy with a shopping cart in front of Gelson’s.”
He had not been able to sleep, sometimes staying awake for three days consecutively, and had suffered chronic headaches when his physician prescribed him medical marijuana.
The first six months cost him $65 and he will pay $45 to renew his card once it expires. He admitted he sometimes smokes while on campus, usually in the form of a “spliff,” a cigarette rolled with both tobacco and marijuana. People around him, often so averse to cigarette smoke, can’t usually tell the difference in the scent.
While the future of medical marijuana in Orange County remains uncertain, John remains optimistic. “If you want it legal, sure, sign petitions, go to rallies, all of that, but it’s going to happen. It’s just like Prohibition. It’s taking its steps, but it will happen.”
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