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Dope dispensaries? Not here, please

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Sep. 7, 2009 at 7:05 pm |
October 7, 2009 5:09 pm

The best way to deal with weeds is to whack them before they go to seed. Prosecutors are doing pretty much that to marijuana dispensaries that have taken root in Spokane, of all places.

The Spokane County prosecutor’s office is pressing drug-dealing felony charges against a man busted last year with five pounds of marijuana in his home. Darren J. McCrea, 41, is the founder of SpoCannabis, a group that sells the drug to patients certified by doctors as eligible for medical marijuana.

Washington voters approved the medicinal use of cannabis in 1998 – but under tight restrictions.

California was already becoming notorious for effectively legalizing recreational dope-smoking through its extremely lax medical marijuana law. Washingtonians were offered their own loophole-riddled marijuana initiative in 1997, and they resoundingly rejected it.

The one they did pass the next year, Initiative 692, was explicitly designed to forbid the California-style dispensaries that operate like commercial marijuana shops. Its sponsors touted its safeguards, including a provision that let a “primary caregiver” provide limited amounts of marijuana to a patient under conditions that precluded drug-dealing.

The key language required a caregiver to “possess no more marijuana that is necessary for the patient’s personal, medical use” and “be the primary caregiver to only one patient at any one time.”

The meaning seems crystal clear: No multi-customer operations. But McCrea and other dispensary advocates have seized on those last four words. In their view, it sounds like, “any one time” means any time a buyer walks through the door.

Accept that logic, and Washington takes a long step toward the wide-open drug-dealing now rampant in California, where some compliant doctors hang out their shingles near dispensaries and pass out marijuana cards to anyone with a vaguely plausible physical complaint.

But the Spokane prosecutors take the law at face value. So do state officials. So, we hope, will the courts.

As California’s experience has shown, dispensaries can be Trojan horses of de facto marijuana legalization. Americans have been debating whether to decriminalize the drug for at least 40 years.

Advocates of the idea make some interesting libertarian arguments. But let’s have that debate out in the open. Decriminalization of marijuana should be decided on its own terms, not smuggled through the back door under the guise of medicine.

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