Friday, August 29, 2008


California Attorney General Jerry Brown issued restrictive guidelines
this week for medical-marijuana sellers, bolstering his
tough-on-crime credentials as he looks ahead to a possible
gubernatorial bid in 2010.

Mr. Brown's guidelines say medical-marijuana dispensaries -- which
operate in a legal gray area -- should operate as small nonprofits.
The guidelines instruct state law-enforcement officials that
"excessive amounts of marijuana" and "excessive amounts of cash" may
indicate a dispensary is operating unlawfully. "There's no blank
check to sell marijuana in California," Mr. Brown said in an
interview, adding that he believes many marijuana sellers are
"shadowy enterprises."

Medical marijuana has been a sticky law-enforcement issue in
California since voters passed an initiative in 1996 saying doctors
could recommend marijuana to patients. The state legislature passed
measures in 2003 to clarify the law. But store-front marijuana clubs
have sprung up that law-enforcement officials say serve a much
broader clientele than the law intended. And marijuana remains
illegal under federal law, so federal authorities in California
continue to crack down on marijuana sales.

Mr. Brown's guidelines help solidify the legal status of smaller,
nonprofit operations. They also align him with law-enforcement
officials in counties like San Diego, which has shut down storefront
operations over the past few years, accusing them of being illegal
drug cartels. "It kind of validates what we've been saying, that
these storefronts that are for profit, that really have no
relationship with medical-marijuana users, are really not within the
law," said Damon Mosler, the narcotics chief for the San Diego
District Attorney's office.

The guidelines are part of a broader effort by Mr. Brown to focus
attention on his opposition to illegal marijuana sales. Earlier this
month, his office issued a press release, headlined "Attorney General
Brown Shuts Down Illegal Marijuana Operation," announcing a raid on a
dispensary in Los Angeles by the state's Bureau of Narcotic
Enforcement. A California Justice Department spokeswoman said that
when it comes to medical marijuana, Mr. Brown has taken a different
approach than his predecessor, Bill Lockyer.

"I think it's part of an overall strategy to run for governor in
2010," said Jaime Regalado, director of California State University's
Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs (which is named after Mr.
Brown's father, a former California governor). Mr. Regalado said Mr.
Brown has spent the past few years trying to shed the "Governor
Moonbeam" moniker he earned as governor from 1975 to 1983. That
included Mr. Brown's taking aggressive policing stances in Oakland,
Calif., while he was mayor there through 2006.

Mr. Brown has said he is considering another gubernatorial run. But
he said the new medical-marijuana guidelines are a response to pleas
from state law-enforcement officials, not a bid to win support. "This
has nothing to do with politics," he said. "I am just doing my job."

While medical-marijuana advocates don't like the prospect of
tightened restrictions, some said the new guidelines should help them
to comply with the law. "It reduces the subjectivity of law
enforcement," said Joe Elford, who is chief counsel with the
marijuana-advocacy group Americans for Safe Access. He said the
majority of marijuana clubs in the state are small operations that
already comply with the guidelines.

Kevin Reed, the owner of a medical-marijuana provider named Green
Cross, said the guidelines are "a really positive thing" because they
clarify state policy. Mr. Reed, who has a permit from the City of San
Francisco, said income that's not used for expenses and staff salary
goes into lowering the cost of marijuana for clients. But, he added,
there are some dispensary owners in Northern California who "feel
like they should operate like any other business."

Mr. Brown said that by eliminating larger, cartel-type operations,
the guidelines should reduce the attention that federal authorities
pay to legitimate distributors. San Francisco U.S. Attorney Joseph
Russoniello said he supports that notion: "The people that the
attorney general identifies as legitimate medical-marijuana operators
are the people we view as flying below our radar."

Mr. Russoniello said the guidelines don't change the fact that
marijuana remains illegal under federal law. And he disagreed with
suggestions that most sellers comply with California law. He
estimated that 95% of medical-marijuana distributors are for-profit operations.

Allison Margolin, a criminal defense attorney who represents
marijuana dispensaries, said the new guidelines don't explain the
difference between for-profit and non-profit organizations. "Law
enforcement will use this vagueness to continue to prosecute people," she said.

Newshawk: Americans for Safe Access
Pubdate: Fri, 29 Aug 2008
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Page: A4
Copyright: 2008 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Authors: Justin Scheck and Rhonda L. Rundle
Referenced: The guidelines
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)

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