Yesterday, the city in which I live, Long Beach California, held a “study session” concerning a long-delayed proposed city ordinance related to the regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries. Activists in favor of expanding access for patients inside of the city have been largely excluded from the process of shaping this ordinance, in favor of relegating the development of this policy to our city bureaucracy (which is staffed largely by managers who do not live here). Additionally the LBPD, a force that responded to the growth of the local pot industry in this manner, is expected to oppose any legal recognition of dispensaries.
So folks like me are not expecting much to come good to come from piece of proposed legislation, or really anything else from our local government. There is a strong sense of cynicism and distrust between the pot community and their elected representatives. This is depressing for a number of reasons, especially when you consider how this situation could have been entirely avoided.
Not surprisingly, the best example of how a local government should “engage” with the medpot industry can be found a few hundred miles north of us in pot-loving hippie enclave Berkeley. That city hosts “Berkeley Patients Group,” a fantastic model dispensary close to the center of the NorCal’s infamously liberal bastion of cannabis enthusiasts. BPG provides an educational atmosphere for patients, a safe professional facility, and fire meds (I can speak about this from personal experience by the way).
The community loves and has supported BPG since 1999, and with good reason. BPG proudly provides its local employees with a living wage and benefits, pursues a “good neighbor” policy in how it distributes medication in the community, and even has a weed-welfare system in place for low-income patients.
Sounds like a great local business right? Well the City of Berkeley agrees, and has fought alongside the dispensary in federal court to keep BPG alive despite the latest idiotic attempt by the DOJ to shut down the state’s most prominent dispensary. Last Friday those efforts by city officials resulted in a successful motion to stay BPG’s closure while the 9th Circuit decides on the issue of standing. And how does a city justify keeping a distributor of a Schedule 1 drug open? Well the court concluded that because BPG is so well run, closing it could create an “irreparable harm” for the city and that “district courts should recognize the public interest reflected in a properly enacted local ordinance.”
Well hot damn. That is some good law-ing.
All dispensaries are not created equal, and obviously not every community is Berkeley. However the process by which Berkeley’s ordinance was created and how city officials later enforced it does show that the more antagonistic sort of relationship between the municipal authorities and the pot community is not inevitable. Good laws generally breed compliance and good faith efforts by those people who are subjected to the power of the state. Purposefully excluding those same people from the formation of a policy and then insisting on strict adherence to the legitimate public interest concerns of a city government is just silly. However, being stupid and unjust has rarely stopped a city from enacting a particular law, so folks like me in Long Beach will probably have to continue to address these issues in the courts rather than legislatively.
Stefan BC is a marijuana advocate and juvenile dependency lawyer in Long Beach California. Follow him at @Stefan_BC or his new firm @Cannabarrister on twitter
[Illustration via Shutterstock]