Where There’s Smoke, There’s Ire
Councilwoman Toni Iseman opened Agenda Item 22 at the last Council meeting by informing us that Laguna Beach had one of the highest per capita voting support for legalizing medical marijuana back in 1996. It was known as Prop. 215 – the Compassionate Use Act. We have already zoned against retail dispensaries, but Item 22 was now threatening delivery services, too. She said, “not delivering in town to the most vulnerable is unfair.”
Then she and her band of merry prohibitioners promptly eviscerated any compassion or care by making it illegal not only to cultivate pot or open a dispensary, but also to have it delivered here. Thus those who use the plant for legitimate medical reasons – often the elderly (or veterans) to mitigate pain, nausea, and stimulate their appetite – must somehow travel outside the city to procure their medicine. So picture a nice 90-year-old cancer sufferer having to drive to Santa Ana for her meds. Is this compassion? Or even safe?
The motivation for this draconian measure is the same motivation for making a proven plant medicine that has been legal in our state for 20 years impossible to procure in our town: fear. That is because urban, diverse cities like Santa Ana, Anaheim, Long Beach and Los Angeles had problems at the beginning with the unregulated proliferation of pot dispensaries. So instead of careful consideration on how to regulate and limit dispensaries, our little hamlet decided to prohibit them altogether through a little zoning chicanery.
Referring to criminals, Police Chief Farinella warned that allowing delivery would bring “that element to your doorstep.” With all due respect to the chief, Laguna is not Long Beach. And people licensed to deliver medical marijuana have to be law aiding citizens. She went on to say that the “criminal element” would in effect be able to “case the joint” of their customers, leaving them vulnerable to future theft or abuse. Since licensed delivery businesses are vetted for criminal records, by that notion we should also ban pizza delivery, cable installers, and any other at home services. And Uber should be banned.
The real issue in outlawing delivery is that it will go on nonetheless, with real criminals willing to break the law instead of the city regulating it and potentially reaping the tax benefits.
It appears this swift decision was the result of some recent actions on the part of the state to get in front of the potential legalization of recreational marijuana, which is expected to be on the 2016 ballot. Governor Brown signed three bills (266, 243, 643) introduced by the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) that require licensing for dispensaries, delivery services, cultivation, and the regulation of physicians who prescribe it. Bill 243 contained a provision that said cities who don’t have an ordinance regulating or prohibiting cultivation by March 1, 2016, will lose the authority to regulate or ban cultivation within their city limits, and the state will become the sole licensing authority. Hence the stampede by local jurisdictions to pass as much regulation as possible before the possible abdication of control to the state.
I applaud our council and city staff for showing they can move swiftly when confronted with a usurpation of their authority. Here’s the problem: first off, the bill’s author, Second District Assembly member Jim Wood, published a subsequent open letter saying the deadline of March 1 was “an inadvertent drafting error.” He pledged to have it removed, lessening the scramble by local jurisdictions to enact rash regulations.
Secondly, let’s look at reality. In the latest Gallup poll, 58% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. Nearly half of all Americans (49%) have tried it. A majority of states (26) have legalized it for medicinal use. Four states have made it completely legal. And recreational use has been all but decriminalized in California. When will our local government get past the antiquated notion that it is a Class 1 drug, defined as having “no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” that puts it in the same class of dangerous drugs like heroin, LSD and speed? And get with the majority opinion in this town?
Can’t we all accept in a tolerant and artistic culture like Laguna that weed is not only a medicinal plant, but also a cosmic consciousness expander and sense stimulator that is far more benign than alcohol? Kids will get it no matter what, and not through licensed delivery. It’s up to parents to provide council and guidance on responsible use. But if we really want to make Laguna safe, then let’s cut down on the more than 100 establishments that legally serve that most pernicious killer of all, alcohol.
The fact that the ordinance had a “carve out” for the ongoing delivery by licensed caregivers is just not practical or realistic. A caregiver is defined as someone who can legally cultivate marijuana for those in need. How many seniors with acute suffering in Laguna know a pot grower who will cultivate exclusively for them? The reality is much simpler: you go online, find a legitimate, licensed delivery service, call them up, and have your medicine in a half hour. Just like pizza. Only better for you.
The good news is that Council will have a second reading of this ordinance for final ratification at the Tuesday, Feb. 2, council meeting. I urge anyone who believes in basic freedom, common sense, and the benefits of medical marijuana for those in need to show up and tell Council to strike this needless prohibition that puts us squarely in opposition to the majority of the people in our fair town who voted so affirmatively for the responsible, compassionate and legal use of medical marijuana. It will be in the consent calendar, which happens early and goes by quickly. So be prompt at 6 p.m.!
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]