After 25 years of lower back pain, Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez finally decided to take obvious step No. 1: get a physician’s recommendation for medical marijuana. Last week he took obvious step No. 2: write a column about it in the Times.
Lopez got his recommendation from a physician who advertised “superior professionalism” yet never laid a hand on Lopez. He identified himself as a gynecologist who knows nothing about back pain. He nevertheless charged $150 for no good and valuable service except certifying in writing that “Steve Lopez was evaluated in my office for a medical condition, which in my professional opinion, may benefit from the use of medical marijuana.”
What more do you need to know? The unscrupulous have hijacked the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, California’s medical marijuana law.
Hundreds of physicians run this scam thousands of times a day. Los Angeles alone counts 186 “medical marijuana dispensaries” that have city permits and some 600 more that don’t. Recreational pot users vastly outnumber patients with cancer, glaucoma, AIDS, anorexia, arthritis, migraine or “any chronic or persistent medical symptom that substantially limits a person’s ability to conduct one or more of major life activities as defined in the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.”
Profits from dispensaries can run in the hundreds of thousands. And no way is all that weed from legal sources: The eight ounces of dried marijuana, six mature plants or 12 immature plants allowed qualified patients and primary caregivers who have a state-issued I.D. card. Or the greater amount when it is “consistent with the patient’s needs” as certified by his doctor’s recommendation or when local ordinances allow it.
Dispensaries aren’t mentioned in California’s medical pot law, but no less cool an attorney general than Jerry Brown issued guidelines last year: Legal distribution of medical marijuana does not include walk-in storefront dispensaries whose profits far exceed reasonable expenses and whose sole claim as “caregiver” for hundreds of patients is selling them pot at a tidy profit.
This industry is not what compassionate voters had in mind when they approved Proposition 215. It is not what state law allows. It is also hell-bent on persuading the populace that the purpose of raids by law enforcement on its unlawful establishments are actually the precursor to denying legitimate patients, caregivers and collectives medical marijuana.
That’s why pot devotees and profiteers rejoiced when the Obama Administration announced that federal law enforcement agencies won’t join in raids on dispensaries - the point at which they quit listening and started cheering a step toward full legalization. They ignored the part of the Obama policy that from the start has distinguished between dispensaries that abide by state and local law and dispensaries that don’t.
In fact, without raids to separate the lawful weed from the chaff that piggyback on it and profit from it, the plan to turn public support for medical pot into support for legalizing all pot could suffer. Former mayoral candidate Steve Francis wrote on SDNN the other day of a poll showing that San Diegans don’t want dispensaries in residential neighborhoods or near schools and do want a criminal background check on their proprietors - not good news for some of them.
Still, the crowd that insists the nation needs another legal intoxicant because drivers on pot haven’t killed as many people as drivers on booze - yet — is apoplectic at the Sept. 10 raids. San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is the chosen villain, as though she alone understood Obama’s policy and read Brown’s guidelines on dispensaries.
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In fact, the U.S. attorney, the DEA, the IRS, the county sheriff, the San Diego city police and the San Diego Narcotics Task Force joined in raids on 14 dispensaries and six associated residences, all with proper search warrants.
The arrestees and their attorneys will have their chance to argue that the law allows for-profit dispensaries and disallows undercover investigations indicating any dispensary’s willingness to sell pot to whoever comes through the front door, or around to the back.
That kind of convenience store didn’t exist when pot became Boomers’ illicit drug of choice in the ‘60s and ‘70s. But even that wave of haze is overstated. According to Gallup Polls, in 1969, 4 percent of American adults said they had tried - not succumbed to — marijuana; in 1973, 12 percent; in 1977, 24 percent; in 1985, 33 percent; in 1999, 34 percent, including 46 percent of non-Boomers born between 1970 and 1981 and 46 percent of 30- to-49-year-olds, some Boomers, some not.
The “heyday” of the ‘60s wasn’t, Gallup and others conclude.
And however ballyhooed by advocates of legal pot, the vaunted reports last month that older boomers are returning to or “continuing” the pot smoking of yesteryear don’t herald a heyday either. Yes, the percentage of pot-using boomers 50 to 59 years old more than doubled: from 3.1 percent in 2002 to 5.7 percent in 2007, most of them resuming pot use, not continuing it. As most Boomers got jobs and had children, they quit the furtive buys and hazy highs.
And a good thing they did, given “characteristics associated with continued use of illicit drugs” among Boomers found in studies by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration: “male gender, unmarried status, early age of drug initiation, having low education and income, unemployed due to disability and past-year major depression episode.”
By Beth Barber
November 4, 2009