EDITORIAL: Fix medical marijuana mess

FresnoFebruary 28, 2014 

Marijuana is weighed and packaged for sale at the Northwest Patient Resource Center medical marijuana dispensary in Seattle. Medical marijuana is complicated and controversial.


Given how long California has been stuck in its medical marijuana morass, the wisest move is to fix that first. With real-life laboratories in Colorado and Washington state on legal recreational marijuana, it makes sense to wait and watch closely before making pot any more available.

If state legislators do their job, that can be California's course.

Proponents of the best-financed initiative to legalize marijuana have pulled back from this November's ballot and have set their sights on 2016, when they believe a larger voter turnout would help their chances. While two other groups are pushing ahead for this year, neither has qualified its initiative for the ballot.

Meanwhile, there are two bills before the Legislature to finally bring some sensible statewide rules to medical marijuana dispensaries, more than 17 years after voters approved Proposition 215.

The goal ought to be to return as much as possible to the original intent of Prop. 215 — compassionate use of marijuana for the seriously ill. Lawmakers should help shield legitimate dispensaries from heavy-handed federal action, while discouraging big commercial operations.

Both bills have their good points. Legislators need to pick the best provisions, putting aside pride of authorship and political ego.

The California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities have joined forces behind Senate Bill 1262, introduced by Lou Correa, a Santa Ana Democrat.

Assembly Bill 604 combines elements of measures introduced last year by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento and by Assembly Member Tom Ammiano of San Francisco. Both stalled in the Assembly.

Both SB 1262 and AB 604 would continue to let cities and counties decide whether to allow dispensaries at all — a power affirmed last May by the California Supreme Court. About 200 local governments, including the cities of Fresno and Clovis, and Fresno County have banned them.

Both measures would target the big problem of rogue doctors who write pot recommendations with little regard for actual medical need. Some even "diagnose" patients over Skype.

Under SB 1262, physicians would have to conduct an in-person physical examination and determine the type of marijuana and how it should be ingested. To prescribe pot to minors, they would have to justify why the benefits outweigh the possible neurological damage. Doctors would have to report to the California Medical Board how many recommendations they write; if it's more than 100 in a year, the board would audit them. These would be important protections.

Medical marijuana is complicated and controversial enough. Possession for personal use was effectively decriminalized in 2010, made an infraction with a $100 fine.

There's no reason to rush into legalized recreational marijuana, especially since California policymakers can look to Colorado and Washington to see the pros, cons and unintended consequences.

They do, however, need to sort out medical marijuana. It is long overdue for legislators to take up the challenge.


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