Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

March 4, 2010
Author of key pot legislation ponders the impact

The author of California's landmark - some say infamous - marijuana distribution legislation says he never anticipated it could bring a torrent of newly-opened dispensaries to communities in the state.
 
Former Sen. John Vasconcellos says he was trying to set a framework for getting cannabis to medical patients when he drafted Senate Bill 420, using the numeric nickname for pot smoking.

The bill, signed by Gov. Gray Davis, allows non-profit "collectives or "cooperatives" to distribute marijuana to members who are medical users and have a physician's recommendation.

 But Vasconcellos didn't envision burgeoning pot storefronts.

"I didn't think about it," Vasconcellos said in a recent interview at a Capitol news conference on medical marijuana. "We just knew that Proposition 215," which legalized medicinal cannabis use, "directed us to create a distribution system."

Now people such as District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis in San Diego and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich in Los Angeles argue that dispensaries are operating as for-profit retail stores. The L.A. City Council is directing police to comb the books of dispensaries for allegedly excessive salaries paid pot store employees.

Vasconcellos scoffs at the crackdowns.

"I think there's a rallying cry for making people politically popular," he said. "People that run non-profits get paid."

While many pot advocates push for full legalization, Vasconcellos says the time may be ripe for the Legislature to add clarity to the still hazy environment for medical marijuana.

"It would help," he said.

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