Faced with growing chaos in the state’s medical marijuana industry, Arcata, a city in Northern California, passed an ordinance in 2008 that meticulously detailed, over 11 pages, how the drug could be grown and sold in Arcata. Humboldt Medical Supply, a dispensary here in Humboldt County regarded as a law-abiding model that has given free cannabis to elderly patients, became the first to obtain a permit in 2010. The Sai Center, whose owner has a history of flouting city regulations and was described by the mayor as running his business “purely for profit,” was rejected last year.
Arcata is a city of 17,000 people in a region of the state known as the Emerald Triangle, where the illegal marijuana trade has long been tolerated and is a pillar of the local economy. Local government officials worry that counterparts in neighboring communities had received letters warning them against regulating the medical marijuana industry. “They said they could prosecute city officials and staff,” said Larry Oetker, a city official who oversaw the regulations on the dispensaries. “That was a dramatic change.”
Under the ordinance here, the city approved the permit of Humboldt Medical Supply, an “exemplary” dispensary according to Mayor Winkler. Greg Allen, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who represented the dispensary, said its staff included a nurse and rigorously screened customers to ensure that they had legitimate conditions that required treatment with marijuana. By contrast, the city rejected the application of the Sai Center, which has violated city regulations, including advertising its services and letting customers mill around its premises. Its owner, Stephen Gasparas, exhibited “an extremely hostile attitude” at city hearings for his application, the mayor said.
“He was very contemptuous of any government regulation of this at all,” the mayor said. “He seemed really to be in it for the money. If he also had any commitments to patients, I wasn’t aware of that.”
Humboldt Medical quickly closed shop after federal prosecutors began shuttering hundreds of dispensaries in October in one of the biggest crackdowns on medical marijuana since its legalization in California in 1996. The Sai Center’s owner moved locations and has defied the authorities by continuing to operate, most recently out of his mother’s house. City officials, afraid of becoming targets themselves of the prosecutors, have suspended the applications of two other dispensaries that were expected to be approved.
Like their counterparts in many other municipalities that have regulated medical marijuana on their own, Arcata officials say the federal offensive has brought renewed chaos to the medical marijuana industry. The federal authorities have indiscriminately targeted good and bad dispensaries, sometimes putting the best ones out of business. The crackdown has made it difficult for qualified Californians to obtain marijuana for medical use and is just pushing buyers into the black market.
Because of the lack of regulation, it is difficult to know precisely how many dispensaries have shut down or even how many were in operation before the start of the current crackdown. But figures provided by three of California’s four United States attorneys totaled more than 500: “dozens” in Mr. Wagner’s district; 217 in the Southern District, in San Diego; and more than 200 in the Central District, in Los Angeles. Officials in the three districts say they have succeeded in putting out of business more than 90 percent of the dispensaries they have identified so far.
Except for San Francisco and Oakland, the roughly 50 municipalities with medical marijuana ordinances have suspended the administration of dispensaries, said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a group that promotes access to medical marijuana. Though federal authorities have periodically gone after dispensaries since California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use, Mr. Hermes described the current crackdown as “unprecedented” because of its “intensity” and because of the number of dispensaries closed and federal agencies involved.
We must not rest, yet, my Green friends. There is still work to do. This is from a longer and far more complete story and you will find it here.
[image: Google images California]
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