Home » Opinion: Cannabis laws based on a fear (a letter to Sacramento City Council)
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Opinion: Cannabis laws based on a fear (a letter to Sacramento City Council)

On February 26 2013, the Sacramento City Council will likely vote on altering Ordinance 2010-037, the law that governs the medical marijuana dispensaries and their permitting process. The council will be deciding whether to alter the sensitive-use requirements from 600 feet away from schools and parks to 1,000 feet away. The medical cannabis community has been lobbying for weeks now in an attempt to make the city council understand how negatively this will impact our community.

The common justification for modifying city law to match federal law is that children need to be protected. There’s a fear of minors walking past dispensaries and smelling cannabis, or being harassed or harmed by lingering low-lifes. It also seems that those in favor of the new rule are concerned about the proliferation of dispensaries in the Sacramento area, particularly in their own districts, causing them to lose votes from conservative constituents. I also heard some members of the council have express fear of a federal government reprisal against governing officials who permit the sale of medical cannabis. All three of these reasons are based in fear, the worst reason to take away voters rights.

Throughout history, fear-based laws have been used to marginalize minorities and so-called “undesirables.” Lobbyists and religious types convinced people to vote against their own conscience, compassion or even best interests. For instance, as late as 1968 in New York city there was an obscure law about how people could dress in public. A person was forced to wear at least three articles of clothing assigned to his or her gender. This law was created by homophobic people trying to marginalize drag queens and transgendered people. As a result of this law, the police force was empowered to go into gay bars and force patrons to strip down for a clothing inspection, particularly men dressed as women. This was used to humiliate, intimidate and harass people who were doing nothing wrong but living their lives as they felt was right.

How does such a law get on the books? The answer is fear. Although I’m sure there were many homophobic people on the city council in New York when this law was passed (homophobia being the rule of the day), I’m sure there are also well-meaning, good-hearted people voting too. These people most likely voted in favor of the law because they were afraid perverts and mentally-ill people were going to overrun their city. Well, in retrospect we realize a transgendered person living openly in the neighborhood has harmed no one. Individuals who hated the LGBT community succeeded in propagandizing good decent folks. How? With the use of Ignorance and fear. The people they were propagandizing had no frame of reference for drag queens, no education, nor any personal experience with what it was like to be or even know someone who is transgendered. They were forced to speculate and tricked into believing outrageous claims from people who used pseudo-science and religion to demonize a sector of the populace.

Historically women were not allowed to vote and treated as second-class citizens in the United States for many years. This was justified from the fear of the family unit disintegrating if women were allowed to work and vote. These were laws passed by men with no understanding of a woman’s right to equality, made by cowards afraid of losing elections if women could vote.
Throughout history marginalized groups of people have been denied basic rights to jobs, housing, transportation, public services, the right to marry and even the very right to exist by fear mongering xenophobes, homophobes, racists, classists, anti-Semites and every form of hater!

So, as far as this vote is concerned let’s break it down. The first fear: The children being harmed or accessing cannabis. The school of thought is that if a dispensary is open near a school or park, somehow children are going to get exposed to cannabis or unsavory characters. The ordinance already addresses this issue in many ways.
Every month a special cannabis dispensary inspector from the department of code enforcement goes to every dispensary and meticulously checks the following things:

1. The smell inside and out; if there is a smell of cannabis outside the building or even in the lobby, they’ll be forced to fix that or be closed.

2. A manager is present who knows the rules (including keeping children away.

3. That everyone in the building is over 18 years of age

4. That signs are posted including one forbidding children or anybody from loitering inside or outside the collective, and one stating you must be 18 or over.

5.There must be a locked door between the lobby and the dispensing area (yet another barrier between the cannabis and the children).

6. Another safety measure written in the ordinance is that all dispensaries have to have a video recording system around the site; this has been proven highly effective in keeping away “riffraff” or “unsavory characters.”

In addition to city law, dispensaries have their own “house rules” that includes forbidding minors from going into the dispensary even if accompanied by an adult and being a licensed patient. Even though the ordinance and Proposition 215 allow children to get recommendations under the age of 18 in certain cases, they cannot get into a dispensary. Their parent or guardian is forced to get caregiver paperwork and go for them and even then, all the dispensaries I know still would not assist a minor even if they were dying of cancer.

Dispensaries are so meticulous about their clientele that they all have more security guards than required; if you so much as look cross-eyed at anyone you are banned. I was told to turn down a talk show I was listening to on NPR because it was too loud when I was parking at one dispensary.

These precautions are far more extensive than any pharmacy or liquor store. Even if a dispensary was across the street from a school, no child would be getting exposed to cannabis, or even the patients. The myth of children being exposed to cannabis or harmed by patients, like many myths about minority groups, is based on very few incidents that have been blown far out of proportion. Myth and propaganda focus on a very small percentage of a group used to represent, or even stereotype, an entire group.
The second potential problem? Proliferation. The idea behind this is that if the ordinance does not stick to the current map, or the more restrictive 1,000-foot-rule map, somehow dozens of dispensaries will open up in their council members’ respective districts, outraging the populace and causing them to lose votes. If the 1,000-foot rule was voted down and new provisions made to allow for more dispensaries in a more diverse territory, extensive proliferation is still impossible because of these rules:

1. There is a sensitive use preventing dispensing collectives from being less than 1,000 feet from each other.

2. Currently no new dispensaries can open, only the original 36 that registered in 2009.

3. The city has the ability to thwart any dispensing collective from opening due to the special permit hearings that allow input from the neighborhood, businesses in the area.

Even if the city was to turn around and let up on the “residential use” vs. “residential zone” rule or “door to door” vs. “property line to property line” rule, proliferation is impossible without breaking the city law. Since the passage of the original moratorium in 2009, only a handful have tried to open against the restrictions and were closed within weeks. This ordinance has teeth and is working, the problem is the sheer volume of the regulation is having unintended results, like preventing these dispensaries from opening in remote areas away from the general populace and creating zero space in the inner city for places to move to. The idea that enough people are paying attention and voting based on whether there are too many dispensaries is paranoid at best. The general population is pretty much oblivious to their presence, and even patients are unaware that 18 places still operate in the city with the amount of discretion practiced by these non-profit clubs. In addition, a poll conducted by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, stated that 58 percent of city voters said the use of marijuana should be made legal, while 39 percent said it should be illegal, so again nothing to fear from losing your seat due to supporting cannabis patients.

We can all agree no one wants to go to federal prison, lose their job or face heavy penalties for medical cannabis. The truth is that there is no direct threat to government employees abiding by state law. When the federal government first began its crackdown, it intimated that government employees were at risk of being arrested for helping individuals obtain access to medical cannabis. So, the winter of 2011, after the passage of medical marijuana in Arizona, its governor, Jan Brewer, filed a lawsuit against the federal government in an attempt to force the federal U.S. attorneys to answer this question. The case was thrown out by federal judge Susan Bolton. The reason given was that there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that the federal government was actually threatening prosecution of governing officials. Though the feds won’t directly deny any intent to go after government employees and elected government officials, they are also unwilling to make a bold statement that they would prosecute. This is likely because they would not succeed in prosecuting innocent employees trying to do their job, and follow the law of their city and state.

The reality is that none of these fears are founded. They are perpetuated by fear mongers like the federal prosecutors and flashy employers of hate-speech, presenting themselves as men of God in order to prevent people from getting safe access to medical cannabis. We would do well to listen to the wise words President Franklin Delano Roosevelt “The Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself,” as well as those of songwriters Aaron R. Bruno and Brian West, “Never let your fear decide your fate.”

Look back in time and you find ludicrous laws. Laws refusing to let women vote, laws to prevent interracial or gay marriage, even laws telling people men could not wear women’s underwear. The lawmakers behind these laws that rob us of our liberties are viewed 

Historically as backwards dinosaurs of a bygone era and only succeeding with their legacy of ignorance. The city council needs to ask itself, is this is how it wants to be viewed 20 years from now: Uncompassionate and out of touch. That view is inevitable if city council members continue to vote against patients’ rights out of politically-minded paranoia and fear.

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