Dan Morain’s column on Sunday, “Drugged driving, hell on wheels: Billionaire pushing to ease access to marijuana,” sheds some light on the millions of dollars spent by pro-marijuana advocates to influence legislators like Tom Ammiano, Mark Leno, and Darrell Steinberg to push legislation – such as AB 604 and SB 611 – to benefit those who believe marijuana should be legalized and sold for profit.
The column did not mention the fact that these legislators tried to sneak their bills through using the “gut and amend” process. This controversial procedure allows legislators to strip from a bill all of its original content and replace it with new language completely unrelated to the initial bill. This circumvents any input from interested parties and the public. Instead of addressing the issue with transparency and accountability, this process prevents community leaders, medical professionals, cities and counties, and law enforcement from voicing opposition.
Our legislators need to quit trying to pass medical marijuana legislation in this clandestine manner. They also need to understand and acknowledge the danger present in the real world of for-profit marijuana growing and selling. The annual harvesting of outdoor marijuana grows has started again in Sacramento County, and illegal indoor grow houses are also rampant. Law enforcement routinely recovers hundreds of plants, guns, and large sums of cash at these locations. Some indoor growers steal electricity by using an electrical bypass, which has caused fires.
Many of these growers claim the marijuana is being grown for “medicinal” purposes. The truth is most are operating a dangerous criminal business enterprise for profit. It is not uncommon for robberies to occur where marijuana is grown and sold. Currently, our office is prosecuting eight murder cases involving the theft of marijuana. Sacramento County regularly receives complaints from neighborhoods about the smells associated with marijuana as it gets close to harvest season. In our rural areas, farmers complain about use of illegal pesticides on marijuana cultivated in the Delta; these pesticides pollute surface and groundwater. Some farmers have also complained to my office because marijuana grows are guarded by barbed wire fencing, guards with assault weapon-type guns, and pit bulls that often escape the fence and terrorize neighborhoods.
When California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act, Proposition 215, in 1996, they intended to decriminalize the use of medical marijuana by qualified patients and their caregivers. Our medical marijuana laws have never allowed for-profit sales. The recent bills proposed by Ammiano, Leno, and Steinberg would have permitted for-profit sales in California. They failed to recognize the public safety consequences that accompany this type of activity. These dangers have been recognized by many local cities and counties when they have banned businesses from opening marijuana dispensaries, which often get their marijuana from illegal grow operations.
If legislators really want to draft legislation with public safety in mind they need to put forward details on how growing, harvesting, distribution, and sales of medical cannabis are supposed to operate in a manner that is medically responsive without endangering public safety. If they are truly serious, they also need to address in detail how to combat medical marijuana recommendation (“prescription”) fraud. Marijuana is an addictive drug with numerous health risks. An extensive medical examination should be required before a medical marijuana recommendation is made and should address the actual dosage, method of delivery, and an analysis of the possible side effects. Any adult can go to a “marijuana doctor” with the claim they have chronic pain and in a few minutes get a medical marijuana recommendation. Recently, as Morain revealed in a column, one doctor recommended marijuana to a “patient” after a 42-second interview via Skype. It is no wonder one study revealed that the average medicinal marijuana cardholder is a 32-year-old white male with no history of debilitating illness.
Future medical marijuana legislation must make public safety a priority and should not be influenced by marijuana lobbyists and out-of-state billionaires who want to legalize marijuana in the United States.
Jan Scully is Sacramento County’s district attorney.