Saturday, October 10, 2009

Regulation of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Coming to CA?

Today the New York Times has a good story on state regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries. This debate has a renewed impact on California this week, as Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley told reporters yesterday he will resume targeting medical cannabis dispensaries for prosecution. Explicit state regulation of medical cannabis dispensaries would save California's criminal justice system the costs of arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people who fall into the cracks opened by the vagueness of this state law.

When California passed the original state medical marijuana law in 1996, no specific regulations were included for state regulation or licensure of medical marijuana sales, supply, or distribution. Since then, three digits' worth of Californians have been prosecuted over this ambiguity (partial list here). 13 states now have medical marijuana laws (comparative guide here). In 2009 New Mexico became the first state to have its Department of Health license and regulate a non-profit medical marijuana distributor, a delivery service. This June, Rhode Island became the first state to legislate that its Department of Health will license and regulate a non-profit retail Compassion Center.

Before coming to Hastings this fall, I worked for several years as the executive director of the Rhode Island Patient Advocacy Coalition, RI's medical marijuana community. Besides educating professionals, organizing patients, and forming a coalition, we lobbied for the 2006, 2007, and 2009 state laws authorizing and amending the Medical Marijuana Program. Throughout our successful efforts to regulate statewide distribution of this therapeutically beneficial substance, we faced the obstacle of the argument that we would make RI "like California, like the Wild West." Now that New Mexico and especially Rhode Island have established regulatory models, California should model medical marijuana dispensary rules on other states' effective programs.


Hadar Aviram said...

Thanks for this, Jesse; it's very informative. What sort of issues do we need to consider for a regulatory model?

Another issue I'm curious about is the connection of medical legalization to wholesale legalization of marijuana; would regulating the medical market be a benchmark for further regulation of the entire market, or a hindrance?

Jesse said...

Top issues for RI regulators included: security (#1), safety, non-profit status, confidentiality, accountability, employee training, and distance from schools.

The top obstacle to marijuana legalization, with all of its benefits to the economy and personal liberty, is the lack of a good model for regulated distribution. Creating such a model for medical marijuana could serve as such an example: a benchmark, not a hindrance.