Medical pot dispensaries have done a terrible job
Scott Chipman offered me a brownie, but it wasn't that kind of a brownie.
That's hardly shocking, because the Pacific Beach activist known for fighting booze at the beach has a new fight on his hands — shuttering medical marijuana dispensaries.
I'm not sure if Chipman, 57, understood the irony of the brownie when I met him at his home this week because it'd be hard to find a person who seems more, um, square than this guy. (Next to him, I'm George Clooney.)
In addition to pushing to get alcohol banned at the beach, he has also gone after mini-dorms and house parties and P.B.'s expanding bar scene.
Now that Chipman has this in his cross hairs, I'm nearly ready to sell my Cheech & Chong albums.
That's because I support medical marijuana. And many of the people who have been doling it out have done such a terrible job — pushing limits, flaunting laws, selling it to people who aren't really sick — that it's opened the door for crackdowns.
The issues with out-of-control dispensaries are statewide. Steve Cooley, the Los Angeles County district attorney, figures that oh . . . about “100 percent” . . . of the dispensaries operating in his county are doing so illegally.
Their mistakes, and the understandable anger by savvy critics such as Chipman, could end up limiting access for people who are gravely ill and really need it.
It's not as if they can go to RiteAid and say: “Four grams, please.”
Chipman has lived in P.B. for 35 years and wants it to be like Mayberry, circa 1959. He doesn't smoke. He doesn't drink either. A father of four, he runs a company that makes decorative windows and doors.
He got in the medical marijuana fray this summer, when nine storefront dispensaries suddenly opened in P.B. Chipman is worried that kids might witness drug transactions. He researched the issue and maintains that storefront dispensaries are illegal.
“Why do you need a storefront,” he said. “There's nothing in the law about allowing for storefronts. It's for one reason: profit.”
Chipman points out that there's nothing in Proposition 215, which passed in 1996 and allowed for the use of medical marijuana, about storefront dispensaries. That's the same story for Senate Bill 420, which expanded the law and allowed for collectives that grow and share marijuana.
But dispensaries became a popular way of providing the drug to patients because there were few other avenues. Sure, patients can grow it at home, but is that really feasible, particularly if they're in a lot of pain?
A caregiver can provide it, but what if the caregiver is unable to do so? The nonprofit (well, they're supposed to be nonprofit) dispensaries became a viable source.
But there's been little, if any, regulation of them. In San Diego, there are no specific guidelines.
When the Obama administration recently signaled it wasn't going to go busting state-approved dispensaries, it caused a flurry of them to open, including those nine in Chipman's community.
They're frauds, he said. And many of the people attracted to them aren't sick, he asserts. They're gaming the system.
Cops raided 14 dispensaries in the county in September — charging that they were selling pot for profit — but many still operate.
All this craziness led the San Diego City Council to recently create a Medical Marijuana Task Force, which is charged with coming up with recommendations to bring some level of control.
The first meeting was held last week and one of the first public speakers? You bet: Chipman.
He worries that the task force isn't looking at closing the dispensaries, just at regulating them.
Well, that certainly seems the way the task force is leaning.
“We have to look at regulations, such as where and how the dispensaries are going to operate,” said Alex Kreit, the task force chairman.
Even those who support medical marijuana and use it do worry about the proliferation of dispensaries. Jeff Trevathan, a medical marijuana patient who attended the meeting, said the way some dispensaries run remind him of drug dealers from high school.
“Like they're selling it from their locker.”
He wants more controls, so communities will be more accepting of the dispensaries and medical marijuana will continue to be accessible to those who need it.
Personally, I like that position. I know that many dispensaries aren't on the up and up and regulation is necessary. Without it, those who really need it will suffer.
But Chipman wants them gone. And here's the thing: This man is a potent force.
By Michael Stetz
2:00 a.m. October 14, 2009