On Monday, the Huntington Beach City Council curiously, and wrongfully, imposed a 45-day moratorium on permits for medical cannabis dispensaries, which are legal in California.
The city attorney and police chief argued for the ban, hiding behind the smokescreen of “a conflict between state and federal law on the issue of medical marijuana.” The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in November and is now deliberating in a medical marijuana case, Ashcroft vs. Raich, to decide whether federal agents can stop patients from peacefully growing their own medicine.
Angel Raich, who lives in Oakland, suffers severe chronic pain from a variety of ailments, including fibromyalgia, endometriosis, scoliosis, uterine fibroid tumors and rotator cuff syndrome. If that’s not enough, she also has an inoperable brain tumor, seizures, and life- threatening wasting syndrome, accompanied by near-constant nausea. Raich found that medical marijuana keeps her out of a wheelchair and feeling better than anything else (she’s tried over 35 medicines). Unfortunately, the feds think raiding homes of people like Angel Raich is “law enforcement” and a good use of our tax dollars.
However, under our federal system of dual sovereignties and California law, even where state and federal laws conflict, Huntington Beach is obligated to enforce only state law.
California voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana in 1996, and the Legislature subsequently passed laws about implementation. It is state policy to encourage dispensaries and provide medical marijuana to patients in need. Moreover, the California Supreme Court has said that the state is responsible for enforcement of its own marijuana laws rather than those of the federal government.
Even if City Council members didn’t pay attention in civics class, they ignored valuable legal information from highly regarded Los Angeles attorney Manny Klausner, who provided them with the relevant information and case law before they voted for the ban. It is a sad day when they are willing to discard the rule of law because of their own prejudices.
They claim they passed the ordinance because of an unsubstantiated fear that medical cannabis causes crime – as if grandma is going to leave chemo, toke up and go rob a bank because she has restricted access to her medicine. Meanwhile, in Anaheim, police Sgt. Rick Martinez recently said a marijuana dispensary that opened in December “has not caused any problems” in his city.
Last year, at a symposium on medical cannabis at the USC medical school, a paralyzed patient in a wheelchair told a heart-rending story of his difficulties buying his medicine on the street, where he was routinely victimized. So the real losers in this are the patients who are having their access to medical cannabis restricted.
The science on medical marijuana is clear: The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences report (funded by the Office of National Drug Control Policy) positively describes the role of cannabis as medicine. Similarly, as Dr. Lester Grinspoon of the Harvard Medical School states, “Marijuana’s therapeutic uses are well- documented in the modern scientific literature . These studies demonstrate marijuana’s usefulness in reducing nausea and vomiting, stimulating appetite, promoting weight gain and diminishing intraocular pressure from glaucoma. There is also evidence that smoked marijuana and/or THC reduce muscle spasticity from spinal cord injuries and multiple sclerosis … .”
Although this mean-spirited ordinance will not hold up in court, time is on the city’s side. The council surely knows that its initial ordinance will expire before a court date can even be set because our wheels of justice move so slowly.
Nevertheless, we’ve learned plenty about council members: They are willing to discard state law and the overwhelming will of California voters; and they are eager to smear ailing citizens seeking pain relief as a crime risk.
Californian Peter McWilliams choked to death on his own vomit because he was denied access to the one medicine that successfully controlled his nausea. How many more people must die before we stop erecting senseless obstacles?
David Nott is the President of Reason Foundation.