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Pot crackdown flies in face of law and sense.

Byline: Allison B. Margolin

AS the Obama administration attempts to steer federal agents away from prosecuting marijuana dispensaries, the Los Angeles county district attorney and city attorney are attempting to undermine that shift by articulating a deceitfully narrow view of the state law.

Despite reports of trillion dollar deficits nationally and a collapsing state economy, District Attorney Steve Cooley says his office is committed to closing down revenue-generating dispensaries and continuing to take prisoners of war in the fight against safe access to medical marijuana.

In doing so, L.A. is threatening to plunge the state's economy into further collapse by taking potential tax revenues that could be going to the state treasury. Moreover, the city's position threatens to generate crime by forcing the huge demand for marijuana back to the street. If the free market has allowed for the proliferation of dispensaries, that demand is not going away. The avenue for its fulfillment will simply change and could go from safe to entrenched in the poly-drug trafficking black market economy.

Most alarming, perhaps, is that the district attorney seeks not only to thwart the proliferation of these establishments but seeks to create a whole new class of felons in medical marijuana operators. And the D.A.'s view of the state law - that it does not allow for the operation of dispensaries - is not just shocking. It flies in the face of case law handed down by the California courts.

Just this past August, the Fourth Circuit of the California Court of Appeals (in People v. Hochanadel) affirmed what Attorney General Jerry Brown announced last year: that storefront dispensaries that receive money in exchange for marijuana, may qualify as legal cooperatives.

Furthermore, in that case, the California judiciary upheld a 2005 interpretation of the marijuana sales law allowing for cash for marijuana transactions. As the court said in the 2005 Urziceanu case, speaking about the state Legislature's expansion of the 1996 medical marijuana referendum: "Its specific itemization of the marijuana sales law indicates it contemplates the formation and operation of medicinal marijuana cooperatives that would receive reimbursement for marijuana and the services provided in conjunction with the provision of that marijuana."

These two decisions also affirmed the notion that simply because some of the marijuana being sold at cooperatives may have been purchased from people who are not members of the cooperative does not invalidate the medical defense, or make the possession of that marijuana illegal. Yet, the District Attorney's Office prosecutes people simply on the basis that some of the marijuana at a dispensary allegedly came from nonmembers, or that the marijuana is sold for more than that for which it is bought. The fact that a dispensary has gross profits does not mean that the owners are making profits.

The district attorney's policy and deliberate misinterpretation of the law begs the question of why. Perhaps law enforcement enjoys marijuana dispensary busts more than others because the defendants are generally civil, non-gun-toting, law-abiding civilians. Perhaps it's the money. But strangely enough, in cases I have represented recently, the state does not always keep the proceeds from dispensaries.

Whatever the perverse reasons motivating the district attorney's position, the issue is not why but how to stop this alarming waste of resources. The media has focused on the fact that the amount of dispensaries in L.A. has mushroomed over the past year and on the ease with which marijuana users are obtaining recommendations. No one has focused on the fact that the war against dispensaries is another chapter in the escalation of the drug war, another excuse to send people to state prison, another mechanism to disenfranchise people whose medicine is not respected by law enforcement as legitimate.

This has to stop. In the wake of prison overcrowding and budget crisis, sending more people away and depriving the state of taxes they are currently reaping from dispensaries is not the answer.

This week, the LAPD is expected to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries across Los Angeles. The time for action is now - before more people are caught up in the system, before more resources are wasted and before more lives are ruined.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) Cley Tepel poses in front of his shuttered marijuana dispensary, Kush Korner, in Reseda earlier this month.

Reed Saxon The Associated Press
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 22, 2009
Words:721
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