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Wednesday, May 08 2013 11:00 PM

Local control of dispensaries makes sense

By The Bakersfield Californian

Monday's ruling by the California Supreme Court that essentially authorizes cities and counties to decide individually whether they will allow marijuana dispensaries to operate in their jurisdictions makes good sense. Local governments ought to be able to determine whether marijuana dispensaries are a good fit for their particular community standards and, if so, under what circumstances.

The question that should influence these local decisions -- which would be enforced through zoning restrictions -- is whether dispensaries are catering to the needs of patients with valid, diagnosed medical needs or are simply retail outlets for recreational users happy to score their weed as easily as they might buy a pack of cigarettes. Dispensaries certainly often give the outward impression that they cater primarily to the latter group, with locked doors, drawn shades and furtive customer behavior.

Still, the benefits of medicinal marijuana have gained support in the mainstream medical community: The National Cancer Institute, for one, acknowledges marijuana's benefits. A compassionate society makes it available to those truly in need. That's why medicinal marijuana, or its active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, aka THC, should be available as a pain reliever and anti-nausea agent -- but not by way of dispensaries. Medicinal marijuana should be administered under Food and Drug Administration control. We've had it with incompatible state laws.

A patient with glaucoma -- another condition that can be helped with marijuana -- should be able to secure a prescription from a board-certified ophthalmologist, then have that prescription filled at a pharmacy.

The feds now ban marijuana for any purposes, though the Office of National Drug Control Policy seems to realize that at some point medical marijuana is likely to become reality. The agency's contention is that smoking marijuana offers no benefits, but other delivery forms may.

"This Administration joins major medical societies in supporting increased research into marijuana's many components, delivered in a safe (non-smoked) manner, in the hopes that they can be available for medical professionals to legally prescribe if proven safe and effective. The U.S. federal government is the single largest funder of research on marijuana in the world," the office says.

Two bills before the Legislature could still make it difficult for individual cities and counties to regulate dispensaries. One of those, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would provide a regulatory structure governing the state's medical marijuana program. It would "establish statewide standards for the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation, distribution, and sales of medical marijuana and medical marijuana products," according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Such a law could change the landscape significantly, as would a possible ballot initiative on the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

Voter approved legalization, at least, would end the current dispensary scam. Folks wanting their pot could simply buy it. That would be more respectable than allowing a perfectly healthy young adult to ask a storefront doctor for an "evaluation" to secure a marijuana card because he or she "can't sleep."

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