August 27, 2008

Brown Doesn’t End Pot Debate

By Wendy Leung

If state Attorney General Jerry Brown's medical-marijuana recommendations released this week were meant to clarify a muddied issue caused by conflicting state and federal law, not all local officials saw the light.

Some welcomed Brown's effort to protect legal dispensaries and patients, but others believed the guidelines released Monday were far from the final word.

San Bernardino County and its Sheriff's Department are challenging Brown's recommendations with a petition to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We still think the recommendation is in direct conflict with federal law," said San Bernardino County sheriff's spokeswoman Arden Wiltshire. "Our sheriffs believe federal law supersedes state law."

Brown's 11-page recommendation tells local law-enforcement officers not to arrest medical-marijuana patients under federal law if their conduct is legal under state law.

Furthermore, the directive states that a properly run dispensary operating as a nonprofit is legal.

"I'm sure the feds want to challenge that," said Claremont Councilman Sam Pedroza. "It certainly isn't the end of the issue."

Claremont was poised to open a medical-marijuana dispensary but a change of heart led a council majority to vote against it. The city now has a ban on dispensaries.

"I think it's a step in the right direction in helping cities out, but I think we also need the same type of clarification from the federal government," Pedroza said.

"I don't think it'll change our position from the city yet. Everything is still in flux between the state and federal government."

California voters passed a proposition in 1996 that legalized medical marijuana, but the federal government continues to treat this alternative medicine as an illegal substance.

The contradictory positions have for years created a quandary among police, lawyers and public officials.

Many local law-enforcement agencies, like the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, have been abiding by federal guidelines on this issue.

"I'm not sure if the new determinations make a difference or not, it's too soon to tell," said Fontana police Sgt. Jeff Decker. "We still treat a violation of marijuana possession as a violation of the federal law."

Decker said arrests of medical-marijuana patients are not common, but patients who are charged can use a medical-marijuana card in their defense.

The confusion between state and federal governments and a fear that businesses selling medical marijuana could attract crime have led to a wave of dispensary bans by cities across the Inland Valley.

Norco banned them in 2007 after a Riverside County judge shut down the dispensary Collective Solution.

Mayor Frank Hall said the recent recommendations were politically motivated.

"I think it's wrong," Hall said. "I don't think that the state can pass a law that supersedes the federal government."

The recommendations are the first that a state agency has issued since voters passed the medical-marijuana initiative 12 years ago.

Claremont Mayor Ellen Taylor, who supports a regulated dispensary in the city, welcomed Brown's recommendations. She said she's not sure whether the guidelines will change the city's ban or if there's still enthusiasm behind establishing such dispensaries.

"You never know. I'd never say 'never,"' Taylor said. "But it's good that the state is putting some muscle behind (the initiative). It's about time the state steps up to the state law."

(c) 2008 Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.