On the surface, it certainly seemed like a good idea. AIDS and cancer patients found that marijuana greatly helped their pain and nausea. So why not legalize it? United Methodist Church minister, Scott Imler, felt it was the compassionate thing to do, and worked diligently to pass Proposition 215, which would legalize medical marijuana in California. That was eleven years ago, and Imler is not so sure now, after witnessing the abuses that have occurred. His hope was that medical marijuana jurisdiction would be dispensed from pharmacies, to those who truly needed it. But instead, the law resulted in “pot dealers in storefronts.” A doctor’s note is all that is needed to obtain the drug, and those are quite easy to acquire.
On the 60 Minutes television program, (September, 2007-updated December, 2007), journalist Morley Safer, referred to what has happened as “the law of unintended consequences.” Reverend Imler agreed that many people are legal practitioners marijuana, not for pain control, but to get high. It was supposed to be highly regulated, and only distributed to the seriously ill. But Imler explained that as the law was being written, many groups came out of the woodwork, wanting to be included as legal users. “They all have their lobbies. The kidney patient and the heart patient,” said Imler. That resulted in a comprehensive law that covered everyone in pain.
There were no clear restrictions on the type of pain. The wording in the law specified, that in addition to AIDS and cancer, medical marijuana would be legal for “…any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.” That led to easy access to a doctor’s note, and lots of storefront medical marijuana “clubs.” Reverend Imler indicated that the amount of money that passes through the storefronts is “just ridiculous.”
The original idea for the formation of the “clubs”, was for patients to grow the cannabis, with the intent of dispensing it to other members, for the sole purpose of medical marijuana use. But Imler reported that most of the cannabis clubs are buying their marijuana from the black market, thereby giving millions to criminals.
Under federal law, medical marijuana is still illegal, and many of the storefronts have been raided by the U. S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Closing down the dispensaries helps rid the state of those who are abusing the law, but it also leaves patients that truly need the drug, without a “reputable” source. The shop owners refer to themselves as “caregivers”, while the DEA calls them criminals. Hundreds of these medical marijuana neighborhood pot shops are throughout the state, with over 400 open for business in Southern California.
Don Duncan owns 3 dispensaries, and states that his main objective is to help the seriously ill. Not long after the 60 Minutes interview, the DEA raided one of his shops. There were no arrests, but the marijuana was confiscated, and the place was turned upside down.
Another dispensary owner, hip hop artist Luke Scarmazzo, was also raided by the DEA, and he faces a minimum of 20 years, and a maximum of life in prison, if found guilty of drug conspiracy. Scarmazzo acknowledges that business was great. In Modesto, he’s sold $4.5 million dollars worth of medical marijuana, in two years. He reports that he took home $13,000 a month salary. (He denies being a drug dealer.)
It’s difficult to imagine that on a typical day in California, with a doctor’s note, you can visit the quaint little pot shop on the corner, and sample pies, cookies, and chocolate milk, all containing the drug, or you can purchase it in other forms also. Many patients smoke it for relief of arthritis, a torn ligament, or anxiety. It’s not unusual to see a gathering of people socializing in the medical marijuana storefronts.
Television station, KCBS, did an undercover report at a Los Angeles clinic. They found the waiting room full of young people, laughing about what ailment they would invent, to receive their note for medicinal marijuana. After a brief visit with the doctor, James Eisenberg, 3 of the 4 healthy people sent in by the TV station, obtained their notes. The cost of the consultation was $175.00. One 17 year old was turned down for being underage. But the complaints of the other 3 were hair loss, dry skin, and high heel pain. Yes, that’s correct–one girl said her high heels hurt her feet, and was given a note for medical marijuana. Overly compliant doctors are a large part of the problem, but the way the law is written, it’s not illegal for them to prescribe marijuana for relief from any type of pain.
California is only one of a dozen states to legalize medical marijuana. It’s clear to see that many abuses are occurring. Reverend Scott Imler feels that it’s time for the federal government to legalize marijuana, and then properly control its use. (However, that will probably be impossible to do.) He argues, “Until that happens, we’re gonna have what we have now, which is chaos.”