A recent proposal out of San Francisco to legalize and tax the sale of marijuana has raised questions about the future of the substance in California.
Marijuana has come back into the spotlight recently with San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's Feb. 23 proposal to legalize the sale of marijuana, because the tax from the sales could help balance the state budget, he said.
If passed, this proposal would make marijuana available to adults 21 and older for any type of use, not just medical, according to Ammiano's Assembly Bill 390.
Ammiano has served San Francisco for several years, advocating progressive issues, such as universal healthcare, domestic partnerships and immigrant housing. His plan to legalize marijuana has once again raised some eyebrows.
But Quintin Mecke, communications director for Ammiano, said legalizing marijuana would improve public safety by treating it much like alcohol.
Dale Gieringer, vice-chair of The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, is one individual who thinks California is moving toward a population that wants less restriction of controlled substances.
NORML, a California-based group, has co-sponsored the medical marijuana initiative and is also a co-sponsor of Ammiano's bill.
Gieringer thinks the legalization of marijuana would be helpful to the economy, but would be far from fixing it altogether, he said.
"This country has deeper economic issues than that; marijuana would be helpful to the economy, but you do have to put in some perspective," he said. "We estimate that the revenues from the Ammiano bill would be over a billion dollars for the state."
The faltering economy has made Californians rethink their stances about marijuana, Gieringer said.
"Does it make sense, with a bad economy, to be spending all this money in a really wasteful and unsuccessful attempt to stop marijuana use when we could be raising money from it?" Gieringer said.
Where it all started
In 1996, Proposition 215 passed, allowing patients with certain medical conditions to use marijuana. It was called the Compassionate Use Act and would later be complemented by Senate Bill 420 in 2004, which defines guidelines for medical marijuana use allowed in Proposition 215.
Gieringer thinks that with Ammiano's proposal and the legalization of medical marijuana in 1996, Californians want a government that is less restrictive on substances.
"The government is the last thing to move in that direction," Gieringer said. "They have a tremendous vested interest to proving that they are protecting the public by making anything that is slightly unhealthy a crime."
Gieringer said it may take an initiative to completely legalize marijuana, but he is proud his organization has helped legalize the use of medical marijuana.
Although legal in the state of California, medical marijuana is not allowed by the federal government, causing confusion and uncertainty for a lot of people, including Jeff Thomas, chief of clinical medicine at Chico State's Student Health Center.
"It seems like it's a really inconsistent policy," Thomas said.
Thomas has mixed feelings about medical marijuana, he said. It can provide symptom relief, but the drug also releases toxic compounds when smoked, similar to tobacco.
"I think there are certain conditions where medical marijuana is helpful," Thomas said.
Chronic wasting disease, a side effect of cancer and radiation treatment that nausea and vomiting, is an example of when marijuana can be beneficial, Thomas said.
Thomas understands the benefits in terminal cases, but when medical marijuana evaluation companies use back pain and headaches as reasons to use marijuana, "you're really kind of getting on thin ice," Thomas said.
Advertisements for medical marijuana evaluations are found in different Chico newspapers, such as The Orion and the Chico News & Review.
One advertisement uses the slogan, "not just for illness, but for wellness," and offers confidential evaluations for symptoms, such as chronic pain, cancer, migraines "and many more."
A police officer's view
Officer Bill Dawson of the Chico Police Department has been on the force for more than 21 years and sees a lot of issues with medical marijuana use in Chico, even though he voted to legalize it.
"There is no control right now," Dawson said. "Anybody and their uncle can grow it."
Dawson has seen a significant increase in crime when it comes to medical and recreational marijuana use in Chico over the past 10 years, especially throughout the student population, he said. College students have even been killed over it.
"I would say because we have more of a party-school atmosphere, there are a lot of issues with medical marijuana," Dawson said. "A lot of students are naive."
The department has dealt with crimes that stem from people who grow medical marijuana - mostly home invasions and robberies.
"It's a very dangerous thing," Dawson said.
Theft resulting from people growing and storing medical marijuana in their residences has caused specific guidelines to be put on the Butte County District Attorney Web site, buttecounty.net/da/215.htm. These guidelines include labeling all marijuana packages and gardens with a copy of the user's recommendation, and reporting any robbery to law enforcement.
Because he is a police officer, Dawson is still seen as an enemy by marijuana consumers who have come up to the front door of the police department, smoking marijuana with their recommendation cards to taunt officers, he said.
The current drug laws, a good growing climate and the young population all contribute the marijuana abuse in Chico, Dawson said. The issue is not one that is going to go away soon, either.
Although Dawson sees medical marijuana as a problem in a school such as Chico State, not all students support the laws.
Jeremy Ballard, a 26-year-old senior from Lincoln, doesn't like people using marijuana, no matter what health conditions they have, he said.
"I don't want a bunch of hippies smoking marijuana," Ballard said. "Aren't there painkillers for that?"
Ballard, who describes himself as conservative, thinks medical marijuana has alternative motives that many don't know about, he said. But the issue is not divided between conservatives and liberals.
On the other hand, Rick Saideh, manager of The Dungeon, a smoke shop on 132 Broadway St., supports medical marijuana and sees benefits that would help ordinary people, he said. Stress relief from home life and financial situations are some reasons to turn to marijuana.
"Stress relief - it's really important in life," Saideh said.
The Dungeon and the Natural Care for Wellness, a health-service business, both support medical marijuana and each share one possible reason for supporting it: They both profit from the smoking of marijuana.
The Dungeon has more than 100 pipes, bongs and other marijuana-smoking paraphernalia on display in the back room of its shop which is guarded only by plastic chains hanging in front of it and an "18 and over" sign outside. The pipes and bongs sold at the Dungeon range in price from $20 to more than $500 for upper-end models.
Saideh, a dark-haired, middle-aged man, said that although the shop is located near the Chico State campus, most of their customers are not students, but rather older adults.
"My main target is 30 and up," he said.
Saideh's support of medical marijuana does come with an air of caution to anyone who may be looking to abuse it. Negatives, such as body damage over extended periods of use, can occur.
By: Mike North
Issue date: 4/8/09
The Orion Online