Paving a New Way?By Jasen T. Davis
Sixteen years ago, Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, became law in California, allowing patients and caregivers to use cannabis for medical use, providing they had a valid doctor’s recommendation. Since growing cannabis was difficult to do, collectives were formed to help patients acquire their medication safely and efficiently from storefront dispensaries. However, cannabis is still illegal on a federal level, add the fact that Los Angeles’ efforts to regulate dispensaries has been either non-existent or draconian—we are left with a chaotic state of affairs.
Some activists are taking matters into their own hands—to counter prohibitionists’ claims that dispensaries are disorganized, unsafe and a hindrance to the quality of life in the City of Angels.
Last October, the Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods (www.stopthebanla.com) filed its own initiative—The Marijuana Regulation and Control Act—to create a system of self-regulation for dispensary operators before the City Council comes up with yet another oppressive measure of its own—which it is trying as we speak.
Yamileth Bolanos, president of The Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance (www.glaca.net), one of the supporters of the initiative, believes that this is the only way to deal with the situation.
“We’ve been working with the city for the last seven years,” she says. “We’ve been begging for an ordinance, but they don’t want to work with us because cannabis is still illegal on a federal level.”
One key aspect of the initiative is that it would provide limited immunity from legal prosecution to dispensary operators that followed regulation guidelines and passed sufficient background checks. However, since the initiative only protects dispensaries that have been registered with the city since Sept. 14, 2007, hundreds of other dispensaries would have to close, leaving the remaining number at just over 128.
“Limited immunity is a state law that everyone can get behind,” Bolanos says. “Until the Supreme Court makes a decision, we are providing a law that’s on the books that allows dispensaries to stay open and patients to access their medicine in a regulated, clean establishment.”
Another initiative—entitled The Regulation of Medical Marijuana for Safe Neighborhoods and Safe Access—has also been filed. This completing measure seems less stringent than The Marijuana Regulation and Control Act, and it would also supply limited immunity to dispensaries operating according to state guidelines. Cannabis sales would be taxed, and dispensaries would not be permitted to stay open as long as they stay away from schools, ect..
Kris Hermes, media specialist for Americans for Safe Access, says he believes that industry regulation is necessary in the absence of any official legislation from the City Council.
“It’s been more than five years, and the City of Los Angeles still hasn’t been able to adopt any regulations. Most of the blame can be placed on the city for coming up with unreasonable proposals,” he says.
The big difference is that The Regulation of Medical Marijuana for Safe Neighborhoods and Safe Access would maintain the current status quo.
“As long as they satisfied the zoning requirements, more dispensaries would be allowed to operate,” Hermes says. “We would like to see as many operating dispensaries as there is a demand being made by patients.”
Both initiatives—each targeting the May ballot—aren’t perfect, but something is better than nothing. And something is needed now, Hermes says.
“If either of these doesn’t work, I’m not sure what the next option will be,” Hermes says. “We have to have some sort of regulation to move forward from this stalemate so that patients can safely and legally get the medication they need.”
The Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, or GLACA, is a group of medical cannabis cooperatives and collectives that banded together voluntarily to protect patients and the community. The alliance has even conducted a “secret shopper” program to determine if local dispensaries are following state regulations as well as GLACA’s own operational and safety protocols. Among these protocols are restriction of membership, careful recordkeeping and public education.