As the association of compassionate use dispensaries in San Diego County, the Patient Care Association is seeing firsthand the panic and despair of our patients as the dispensaries they've relied on to supply them with access to medicine that helps them battle serious medical conditions are being shuttered across San Diego.

Extensive medical research, including research conducted at UCSD, has shown that medical marijuana helps to alleviate the pain and suffering caused by many diseases including cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, arthritis, and HIV/AIDS wasting syndrome. Medical marijuana is recommended by licensed doctors, not dispensaries. However, compassionate use dispensaries are the only manner permitted by state law for patients, without the resources to grow their own medicine, to obtain medical marijuana. And it is these patients that are suffering.

Unfortunately, over the past year, nearly all storefront access to medical marijuana in San Diego County has been eliminated, including those locations that were operating in complete compliance with California State Law. Today, severely ill San Diegans battling debilitating conditions are forced to choose between fly-by-night delivery services, street corner drug dealers, or more expensive and often less effective pharmaceutical alternatives to manage their pain.

There exists, however, a misconception of why the dispensary services across San Diego were closed. Yes, the federal government continues to oppose medical marijuana, in defiance of California law, the will of California voters and the needs of sick Californians. And yes, the US Attorney did send threatening letters to landlords, resulting in the closure of a few dozen locations, and yes, the US Attorney did, in coordination with local officials, raid a few dozen dispensaries in San Diego County. That said, the US attorney has never actually pursued forfeiture against a single landlord and has yet to successfully convict a single dispensary operator as a result the raids.

The vast majority of dispensaries in the City of San Diego, well over 100, were closed though lawsuits by the San Diego City Attorney for violation of the city zoning ordinance. The San Diego City Zoning code does not currently include medical marijuana dispensaries, and if this were any other establishment, code compliance would simply place medical marijuana dispensaries in the nearest available category for zoning purposes—they could be classified as pharmacies, natural remedy providers, etc… However, the conclusion of the City Attorney was that no category of establishments was similar enough to include medical marijuana dispensaries, and, therefore, all dispensaries in San Diego were out of zoning compliance and therefore operating illegally.

Under the guise of code enforcement, the San Diego City Attorney compiled a list of every dispensary in the city, sued them for operating out of zone and actively and openly collaborated with the US Attorney regarding the locations and status of dispensaries in San Diego, facilitating any federal enforcement that did occur.

Their attacks have worked. By our estimates, more than 90 percent of dispensaries have been closed, and the few that remain operate in constant fear of reprisal.

What appears to be missed by our heads of law enforcement is that by closing dispensaries in San Diego, they are forcing patients on to the black market. Our patients would prefer to receive their medicine in a licensed, regulated environment—not some substance of unknown quality and origin from a street dealer on the corner. By closing dispensaries, it is the drug dealers and their cartel backers that benefit.

There is little we can do about federal disregard for state law and patients’ rights.

However, we can eliminate their support from city officials, by putting in place clear regulation—allowing well-regulated compassionate use dispensaries in appropriate zones in supportive neighborhoods in San Diego County.

A citizen’s ballot initiative, such as those being considered in Del Mar, Solana Beach, Lemon Grove and Imperial Beach, would change the municipal zoning codes in these cities to include medical marijuana dispensaries. With proper inclusion of dispensaries in the municipal code, local officials would have no authority to close dispensaries acting in full compliance with California state law and would have no authority to assist the federal government with enforcement actions against collectives operating in compliance with the municipal laws they are responsible for upholding.

Our opponents claim that the will of the voters is immaterial, that the only thing that matters is federal law. But what about state law, the will of San Diego voters and the needs of San Diego patients? What about the Compassionate Use Act, which was approved by the majority of San Diego voters more than fifteen years ago, and every poll/survey and referendum conducted in San Diego ever since, re-affirming the voters’ support of legal, regulated, access to marijuana medicine? How long must California patients suffer at the whim of unelected Washington bureaucrats whose capricious laws fly in the face of the will of the people?

This November is a chance for voters in Del Mar, Solana Beach, Lemon Grove and Imperial Beach to make a stand against federal intrusion, the black market and for the patients of their community. We have full confidence that the rational, compassionate voters in these municipalities will once again show the proponents of prohibition that they support the rights of medical marijuana patients to obtain affordable, natural, quality, scientifically-proven medicine in their communities in fully regulated and legal compassionate use dispensaries by voting “Yes” to allow and regulate medical marijuana access in these communities.

~ James Schmachtenberger

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