Since the Obama administration’s decision – about which it has since waffled – to let states go their own way when it comes to medical marijuana, California’s cities have struggled to tame the still-illegal trade, to accommodate patients without letting lawbreakers run unrestrained.

But a recent California Court of Appeal decision makes that effort far more difficult.

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Ruling in Pack vs. City of Long Beach, the court threw out a city ordinance much like Redding’s that licensed and strictly regulated medical-marijuana shops. The decision, in essence, says that California authorities can decline to prosecute marijuana users or growers – can look the other way – but that actually licensing marijuana sales is a step too far, violating the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The judges presumably have their law straight. As a practical matter, though, the decision will create a far more chaotic situation.

The upside of police licensing like Redding’s is that it gives co-ops incentives to restrict the nuisances, to avoid sales to minors and unauthorized “patients,” to be good neighbors. And it lets the police keep a close, consistent eye on businesses where the potential for criminality is obvious. Police Chief Peter Hansen says he sees widespread abuse of doctors’ recommendations to let casual pot smokers avoid prosecution, but the collectives themselves, he says, generally work hard to comply with the law.

Without local licensing, though, they’ll have far less incentive to work with law enforcement. And while no decision has been made, the city’s likely response will be to order dispensaries to simply close.

That won’t bother many locals a bit. But it’s hard to see how people will sell or use less marijuana just because the trade goes back underground – especially since marijuana gardens are ubiquitous and criminal prosecution of users and growers has become a rarity.

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Redding’s licensing system helps manage a gray market that is, under the law, half criminal and half legitimate. A sane way to bridge that legal divide is exactly what California needs. Unfortunately, for now, the courts say sanity is illegal.

Source: Record Searchlight (Redding, CA)
Copyright: 2011 Record Searchlight
Contact: [email protected]
Website: Redding Record Searchlight: Local Redding, California News Delivered Throughout the Day.