New guidelines for CA pot dispensaries

August 26, 2008 7:25:51 PM PDT
For the first time since 1996 when California voters legalized medical marijuana by passing Prop 215, the state has issued guidelines.

Those guidelines cover patients, police, and the dispensaries. As you know, marijuana is illegal under federal law, but the state allows it for medicinal use. The new guidelines are nonbinding, but for the first time, they will codify and clarify the rights and responsibilities for all of those involved.

The Market Street Cooperative in San Francisco has been in operation for nearly a decade. According to the owner, the medical marijuana dispensary became fully incorporated last year. He says he's already following the new guidelines, which include being a non-profit, or not for profit enterprise, paying state taxes and having a seller's permit.

"It's one greater step to legalization, but on the other side, the state's not going to be in our corner if the feds do decide to come in," says Tate Swindell, Market Street Cooperative.

Attorney General Jerry Brown has called the guidelines a landmark document. It makes clear that those whose use marijuana for medical reasons need a doctor's recommendation and suggests a state identification card like this one issued in San Francisco. A patient advocacy group, Americans for Safe Access For All, says the guidelines are a welcome addition.

"It directs law enforcement not to harass, arrest or otherwise go after patients who are in compliance with California law who possess less than eight ounces of marijuana."

Several law enforcement agencies asked the state for clarity.

The Berkeley Police Department says its officers have seized guns and huge amounts of marijuana from operations like the one on Alston Way that posed as a medical cannabis club.

"Those cases are quite clear. What the guidelines may help us with is the smaller operations, where it's in the gray area where you're not quite sure if this is a criminal enterprise or if it's in fact protected by Prop 215," says Mary Kusmiss, Berkeley Police Department.

Under the new guidelines a legitimate dispensary can't grow more than six mature marijuana plants per patient or have more than half a pound of dried product per patient. ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson says it's about time for the clarifications

"For several years, there's been a conflict between federal and state marijuana laws that has gone all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. These guidelines are great," says Johnson.

Attorney General Brown says any clubs that are trying to make money off medical marijuana are operating illegally and could be shut down. U.S. Attorney Joe Russoniello believes that's most of the dispensaries. Advocates, however, say they believe the vast majority are in compliance.


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