Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Future of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Santa Ana

Updated 9/16/15:  The California State Legislature has approved a package of laws that will create a comprehensive new system to regulate medical marijuana.  Click on the link for more information about the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act.  

Updated 11/10/14:  Both proposed ordinances passed, but the Council's measure garnered more total votes.  The new ordinance will take effect December 19.  The city's Director of Planning will now prepare an application packet that each dispensary must submit.  Once all qualified applications are received, the city will hold a lottery to randomly select 20 dispensaries that will be permitted to operate within 2 designated areas.  

Updated 7/24/14:  The OC Register is reporting that the Santa Ana City Council recently voted to earmark $500,000 for a task force devoted specifically to shutting down illegal dispensaries in the city.  According to the author, SA police cited or arrested 42 people over the course of 2 days for crimes related to working in, owning, managing or volunteering at illegal shops.  Stay tuned for more details as they become available.  

The future of Santa Ana's bustling medical marijuana industry hangs in the balance, as activists and local leaders grapple with the city's proliferation of storefront dispensaries.  

As of today, nearly 50 active pot shops operate within Santa Ana, mostly concentrated around "the green mile" -- 17th Street, between Grand & the 55 Freeway.  That number has fluctuated wildly over the past couple years, due largely to inconsistent enforcement and market forces.  


Santa Ana imposed an official ban on storefront dispensaries in 2007.  Since that time, enforcement actions have shuttered 177 collectives.  Despite the city's efforts, though, clubs are often operating again within days. 


The high turn-over in "fly-by-night" pot shops has frustrated observers on both sides of the debate. City leaders and code enforcement officials complain that, despite their best efforts, the lure of quick money attracts new dispensaries faster than law enforcement can shut them down.  Seriously ill patients complain about the safety, security and lack of regulation at "less-than-legitimate" collectives.  


We all agree that the current status of medical marijuana in Santa Ana is not sustainable.  Only a clear, concise set of reasonable regulations will bring some order to Santa Ana's green mile. Residents need assurances that the pot shops in their backyards aren't attracting crime or degrading the quality of life in their neighborhoods.  Patients need a safe, affordable and reliable source for their medicine.  


Medical marijuana activists have gathered enough signatures to qualify a ballot initiative for the November election.  If approved by voters, The "Medical Cannabis Restriction and Limitation Initiative" would establish a process for collectives to register with the city and to pay a 2% sales tax.  It would prohibit loitering and smoking on the premises and would restrict areas where pot shops could operate. Kandice Hawes, president of OC NORML, says, "We feel that people do want medical marijuana collectives.  They want them to be controlled and safe, and they want the participation of the city and the police departments."

The City Council is now debating whether or not to place its own, competing measure on the ballot.  The city's proposal would impose a 5-10% tax and would cap the total number of licensed shops, and would restrict dispensaries to two industrial zones within the city.

If we've learned anything from our country's failed social experiment called "prohibition", it should be that the government cannot simply make something go away by making it illegal.  The market forces of supply and demand are far more powerful than any local code enforcement agency. Driving the market underground causes more problems than it solves.  When the product is outlawed, the government turns its citizens into outlaws.  I understand and support the city's need for comprehensive, effective regulation of this emerging industry.  Residents should feel secure in their homes, without excessive traffic, loitering and other nuisance behavior.  The Council's proposed ordinance could be counterproductive, though, if it overtaxes marijuana or places an artificial cap on the number of shops that are permitted to operate within the city.  Let the market decide how many shops will operate.  If dispensaries are overly restricted and taxed, prices are likely to climb and many consumers will turn back to the black market.

Unlike the Council's proposed ordinance, the Medical Cannabis Restriction and Limitation Initiative (or MCRLI) sounds like an effective way to address the community's concerns while ensuring that qualified patients have safe and convenient access to their medicine.  It will protect children, generate revenue for the city without imposing burdensome taxes, and reduce the harmful impact that some collectives have had on their surrounding neighborhoods.

This November, vote to save medical marijuana in Santa Ana. Vote "yes" on the Medical Cannabis Restriction and Limitation Initiative.  If the Council votes to place its own, competing measure on the ballot, tell them to butt out and let the free market do what it does best.

Disagree?  Let me know in the comments section, below.

Thank for reading.