ASA Position Paper on Allowing for Dispensing Collectives
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As municipalities and counties throughout the state of California grapple with whether or not and how to regulate the provision of medical marijuana, it is important to review the rights of patients and caregivers as well as the role of state and local government to protect such conduct.
In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act (CUA) in order to "ensure that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes . . . in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief."
Not as commonly recognized, the CUA also encourages "federal and state governments to implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana." In 2003, the California legislature passed SB 420, helping to clarify the rights of patients and specify their legal protection. The legislation states that patients and caregivers are "not subject to criminal liability."
Over time, the difficulty experienced by patients in growing marijuana themselves or finding a caregiver to do it for them became evident. As such, the vast majority of patients in California rely on locally and centrally distributed medical marijuana as their sole-source supply. This situation has resulted in the proliferation of dispensaries across the state in an effort to facilitate the safe and affordable distribution of medical marijuana
It is also worth noting that California voters and legislators were the first in the nation to respond to the needs of medical marijuana patients by providing them safe access to their medicine to alleviate their suffering and, in some cases, keep them alive. The next step must now be taken to ensure the protection and operation of these dispensing collectives and cooperatives.
Traditionally, the states have taken the responsibility for the health and welfare of their citizens. It follows that counties and municipalities prescribe further policy with its most vulnerable citizens in mind. While the federal government does maintain control over many aspects of medicine and treatment in the U.S., over-riding autonomy exists on the part of the states to control the health and welfare of their people.
It is reasonable to expect many patients in California to either cultivate their own medical marijuana or find a caregiver who will do it for them. However, there are many patients in both urban and rural areas that cannot effectively do either. Given the estimated 75,000 patients in California, there are literally thousands of people who rely on local dispensaries for their supply of medicine.
It is incumbent on the state, its counties and municipalities to implement fully the CUA and SB 420 with the health and welfare of its people paramount. If regulation of dispensing facilities is necessary at all, it should be developed with the leadership of local departments of health in cooperation with city and county governments. An effort spearheaded by California Department of Health Services will work to implement voluntary ID card programs in all counties in 2005. This will certainly help to further foster the safety and protection of patients and caregivers. However the ability exists today to develop and adopt reasonable policies around the provision of medical marijuana. Cities and Counties that have established moratoriums on the provision of medical marijuana need not wait for instruction from some other authority. Local departments of health must be involved in this aspect of the health and welfare of its citizens and the time to act is now.
Local law enforcement is prohibited by state law from enforcing federal proscriptions of conduct, which has been decriminalized by the State. Local law enforcement is charged with enforcing state law, which allows for the use and provision of medical marijuana. Local law enforcement officials may not refuse to enforce state medical marijuana law due to a purported conflict with federal law.
Under our federalist system of government, the states, rather than the federal government, are entrusted to exercise a general police power for the benefit of their citizens. Due to this constitutional division of authority between the federal government and the states, the State of California may elect to decriminalize conduct, such as medical marijuana activity, which remains illegal under federal law. Even if law enforcement officers take a personal position on any conflict between state and federal law, they are bound to uphold only state law.
The California Supreme Court stated in People v. Mower (2002) that the State of California is responsible for enforcement of its own marijuana laws, and not those of the federal government. Under California medical marijuana law, patients and caregivers are exempt from prosecution by the state regardless of federal law.
In People v. Tilehkooh (2003), the California courts "long ago recognized that state courts do not enforce the federal criminal statutes." The same court also stated that "the federal criminal law is cognizable as such only in the federal courts." In People v. Kelly (1869), it was determined that "State tribunals have no power to punish crimes against the laws of the United States as such. The same act may, in some instances, be an offense against the laws of both, and it is only an offense against the State laws that it can be punished by the State, in any event."
It is California's public policy to encourage state and federal governments to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana. Given the right of seriously ill Californians to use and obtain medical marijuana, and that California law provides for public policy that encourages the provision of that medicine, dispensing collectives and cooperatives should be encouraged and protected.
On June 6, 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales v. Raich (Raich) that federal law enforcement officials could prosecute medical marijuana patients, even if they grew their own medicine and even if they reside in a state where medical marijuana use is protected under state law. The decision does not say that the laws of California (or any other medical marijuana state) are unconstitutional; it does not invalidate them in any way. Also, the decision does not say that federal officials must prosecute patients. Decisions about prosecution are still left to the discretion of the federal government. The Court indicated that Congress and the Food and Drug Administration should work to resolve this issue
The same day that the decision same down, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer issued a statement affirming the state's medical marijuana law. Lockyer followed up with two bulletins to all California law enforcement agencies to be absolutely clear. Since the decision did not overturn state law, conduct currently protected under California's medical marijuana law will continue to be enforced in the manner it has been.
The purpose of the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), in regulating conduct concerning marijuana, was not meant to regulate the practice of medicine or put limits on states' ability to regulate and care for the health and safety of their people. Nothing indicates that Congress wished to give the federal government (Drug Enforcement Administration) control over the practice of medicine by way of the CSA. The CSA itself recognizes that states are the primary regulators of the practice of medicine. Ultimately, the CSA was never meant to preclude the judgment of sovereign states on what constitutes the legitimate practice of medicine.
A number of cities and counties are currently addressing the issue of regulating dispensing collectives and cooperatives. Many current moratoriums had been adopted to limit the establishment of such facilities until such time that the Supreme Court can rule on Raich. While it is reasonable to allow time for the development of sensible and fair policies, it is unnecessary and unduly burdensome to patients to wait for local government officials to determine the relevance of the Court's decision.
It is also unacceptable to use the Raich decision to ban dispensing collectives and cooperatives, as that activity would be contrary to the spirit and intent of the CUA and SB 420. The ruling does not address regulation or operation of medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives and, as such, City Councils and Boards of Supervisors are still bound to uphold and enforce California law, including the provisions of the CUA and SB 420. The ruling neither forces nor authorizes local law enforcement officers to arrest patients and caregivers. The ruling does not mandate the closure of dispensing collectives and cooperatives around the state. The ruling does not declare California's medical marijuana law unconstitutional or invalid.
Regardless of any assumed authority held by the federal government, California officials do not have authority under state law to seek to enforce more expansive federal law, and the federal government may not constitutionally compel state law enforcement agents to enforce its law. In Printz v. United States (1997), the federal court ruled that "the Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the State's officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program - the Constitution contemplates that a State's government will represent and remain accountable to its own citizens." In New York v. United States, (1992), the federal court stated that, "we have always understood that even where Congress has the authority under the Constitution to pass laws requiring or prohibiting certain acts, it lacks the power directly to compel the States to require or prohibit those acts."
Medical marijuana patients must have safe and legal means to get their medication, rather than being forced to rely on the illicit drug market. Most patients do not have the means or ability to grow their own, and many patients do not know of people willing to act as caregiver and grow the medicine for them. SB 420 further restricts patients' access to their medicine by requiring that patient and caregiver reside in the same county.
The reasonable alternative is an entity that exists solely to provide medicine to qualified patients, much as a pharmacy exists to provide prescribed medication. Dispensing collectives and cooperatives meet this need. Therefore, in order to fully implement the CUA and SB 420, cities and counties must expeditiously allow for these facilities providing safe access for medical marijuana patients.
Whether choosing to regulate or not, cities and counties must allow for the establishment of medical marijuana dispensing collectives and cooperatives. It is also critically important that patients remain at the center of any adopted policy providing for safe and affordable access to their medicine. As such, the leadership of local departments of health should be at the helm of developing sensible policies. In their development, consideration should be made to allow for onsite marijuana consumption as well as the sale of non-medical marijuana-related items. It is unnecessary to over-regulate these acilities and doing so can prove detrimental to the best interests of the patient.
Nothing currently prohibits cities and counties from allowing collective and cooperative dispensaries from existing. It is abundantly clear that public officials and local law enforcement are bound to uphold and enforce state law. In fact, evidence of the need to address this issue, despite the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, can be found in the ordinances already developed and adopted by 22 cities and counties across the state. Therefore, local government must act expediently to implement medical marijuana law, thereby condoning and protecting the formation of dispensing collectives and cooperatives throughout the state.
 Cal. Health & Safety Code Section 11362.5(b)(1).
 Cal. NORML Estimates Over 75,000 Medical Marijuana Patients in California, 2004, http://www.canorml.org/
 Section 3.5 of Article III of the California Constitution provides:
An administrative agency, including an administrative agency created by the Constitution or an initiative statute, has no power:
 See United States v. Morrison (2000) 529 U.S. 598, 618 & n.8 ["the Founders denied the National Government [the police power] and reposed [it] in the States" "the Constitution reserves the general police power to the States"]; United States v. Lopez (1995) 514 U.S. 549, 566 ["The Constitution . . . withhold[s] from Congress a plenary police power"]; Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Massachusetts (1985) 471 U.S. 724, 756 ["The States traditionally have had great latitude under their police powers to legislate as to 'the protection of the lives, limbs, health, comfort, and quiet of all persons'"] [quotation omitted]; Whalen v. Roe (1977) 429 U.S. 589, 603 n.30 [recognizing states' broad police power to regulate the administration of drugs by health professionals]; Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905) 197 U.S. 1, 24-25 (1905) ["The authority of the State to enact [public health legislation] is . . . commonly called the police power -- a power which the State did not surrender when becoming a member of the Union under the Constitution"].
 See People v. Tilehkooh (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 1433, 1446.
 See Lockyer v. City and County of San Francisco (2004) 33 Cal.4th 1055, 1094; see also ibid. at 1107 ["a local executive official has no authority to impose his or her personal view on others by refusing to comply with a ministerial duty imposed by statute"].
 See People v. Mower (2002) 28 Cal.App.4th at 457, 465 n.2.
 Cal. Health & Safety Code Sections 11362.5, 11366, 11366.5 & 11570.
 See People v. Tilehkooh, (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th at 1445 & 1447.
 See People v. Tilehkooh, (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th at 1445 n.13.
 See People v. Kelly (1869) 38 Cal. 145, 150
 Cal. Health & Safety Code Section 11362.5(b)(1)(c).
 See Raich v. Ashcroft, 352 F.3d 1222 (9th Cir. 2003), cert. granted by Ashcroft v. Raich, 124 S.Ct. 2909 (June 28, 2004).
Press Release, Office of the Attorney General of California, June 6, 2005.
Bulletin to all California law enforcement agencies, Office of the Attorney General of California, June 9 & 22, 2005.
 See Federal Controlled Substances Act, 21 USC Section 823(g)(2)(H)(i)(II).
 See Printz v. United States, 521 U.S. 898, 935 (1997).
 See New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144, 166 (1992).
 See Health & Safety Code Section 11362.7(d)(2).