The surge in medical marijuana in California has resulted in something of a free-for-all and, while many communities are attempting to bring regulation and order to the situation, many more are trying to ban weed altogether – whether used for medical reasons or not.
It should go without saying that, since the Obama administration loosened federal marijuana guidelines last month, the issue has become a little more urgent and a lot more fraught.
Many local governments are looking at the situation in Sebastopol, where officials have taken the line that tax receipts for medical marijuana are a valuable extra source of income during the recession. Consequently, marijuana shops are spreading like, well, weed…
Take the Peace in Medicine marijuana dispensary, for instance. This clean, modern operation could easily be mistaken for a doctor’s office, although the three security guards on the door and the powerful aroma of pot might give it away. So successful has this operation been that they are soon to open a second outlet, right next door to Starbucks!
However, it is LA that is the marijuana dispensary capital of the country, with around 800 dispensaries estimated to have opened – despite a 2007 order halting new marijuana operations. This explosion of outlets is blamed on a loophole in the City Council’s moratorium and final regulations are still not in place. The problem is blamed on the vagueness of the ballot initiative that California voters passed in 1996 legalizing medical use of the drug, wherein there is no mention of how or where the drug can be sold.
Little surprise then that Sacramento is looking to other weed-tolerant cities, such as San Francisco, Oakland and Malibu, for insight into keeping medical marijuana available but in check. They certainly don’t want to follow the route taken by officials in Fresno, who have decided the best way to avoid problems with dispensaries is to not have any. In 2006, the City Council passed a zoning ordinance requiring any pot dispensaries to comply with both state and federal law, and the U.S. government still bans the drug outright. As a result, last month nine dispensaries that opened this year were ordered to close.