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With LA thinking about banning dispensaries, who will defend medical marijuana?

Photo by Dank Depot via Flickr Creative Commons

The Los Angeles City Council, if everything goes according to schedule, will vote whether to impose a ban on marijuana dispensaries June 22. On Friday, the proposal cleared its second-to-last hurdle, the Public Safety Committee, and is moving to the full council with momentum.

Those advocating for the ban point out that LA’s medical marijuana system — and really, California’s medical marijuana system — is a massive source of recreational, and not just medicinal, pot. They also worry that local and state medical marijuana laws do not trump federal bans on the sale and manufacture of the drug.

Meanwhile, those against LA imposing an outright ban mostly agree with that assessment, but point out that there are many clean, safe, responsible dispensaries frequented by people who actually use marijuana to help treat illness. They also point out that banning marijuana has generally been an ineffective means of preventing its widespread recreational use.

The truth of the matter is that the recent federal crackdown on medical marijuana enterprises (both legitimate and not) has made it very difficult for local governments that want to support the industry. Take Mendocino County, in the heart of California’s pot country, as an example.

There, the county authorized the sheriff to issue licenses to those cultivating medical marijuana and make sure they were complying with local regulations. It was the only such program in California, and was specifically designed to provide cleanliness and clarity to a notoriously explosive scene. Early this year, the feds came in, busting up licensed grows in the county, and reportedly going as far as threatening local officials with RICO suits. So Mendocino massively downscaled its program.

California has long seen itself as a pioneer in medical marijuana, but with the industry in disarray, it’s looking like key localities like Oakland, Mendocino, and LA are not stepping up to the challenge.

Who, then, is thinking creatively about how you pull together a viable industry?

According to a piece in the New York Times last week, Arizona is the new model for those who want to see a legitimate medical marijuana system. In Arizona, the theory seems to be that the stricter your laws are, the more the system will have the aura of a legitimate medical enterprise. To that end, they’ve pulled together bits and pieces of laws from other states, invented their own, and come up with the tightest standards in the country, including:

Whether all that bureaucracy will appease the feds remains to be seen.