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Large marijuana grows, conflicting laws create problems

POSTED September 12, 2012 9:27 a.m.
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Both the federal and state governments have given mixed signals about the legality of marijuana and the enforcement of laws related to it. When Barack Obama first entered the presidency almost four years ago, he declared that marijuna enforcement would be low priority. Yet, according to federal law, marijuana was then, and still is, a prohibited substance. It is listed as a "Schedule 1" drug, which means that it has not been proven safe and effective, and that there are no legal circumstances for its use. After several years of essentially leaving the marijuana growers alone, the federal government has now significantly increased its seizures of marijuana grows and prosecutions of persons responsible for such grows are now commonplace. Many dispensaries and grow operations had flourished during the previous era of minimal enforcement, existing in what the owners and operators believed to be an environment of governmental tolerance.

California law - it clearly conflicts with federal law - allows for a certain amount of marijuana cultivation and possession as long as it is for "medical purposes." The California medical marijuana law contemplated "compassionate use" for persons with medical conditions as attested to by a qualified medical professional. It is widely believed that the medical marijuana law was just means to decriminalize the cultivation and use of marijuana. These days, marijuana grows are seemingly as common as backyard vegetable plots. There are also innumerable people carrying medical marijuana cards, some fake, which defies any common sense notion that such a large number of people truly require the drug to attenuate their medical conditions. What it all strongly suggests is that the state's legislation making marijuana available as a medical necessity was a de facto legalization of marijuana.

The legal ambiguity, the federal government's hands-off enforcement policy and California's medical marijuana legislation led growers to believe that they could operate without legal consequence. But now, the federal government is back in the business of enforcing marijuana laws. The dispensaries that have operated openly, even with local government-issued permits, are now being shut down and the operators are being arrested, in addition to the marijuana "farmers" in our community being prosecuted.

Now that there are so many large backyard grows, neighborhoods are being disrupted and the situation is causing law enforcement a lot of problems. Neighbors are rightfully upset about the problems that marijuana growers, sellers and buyers draw into the neighborhood. Homes that are the locations of marijuana grows or sales are frequently the subjects of home invasions because robbers figure that the occupants usually have a lot of cash on hand and know they may find firearms at those locations as well. These locations are also places where there are frequent visitors who stay only a short time, creating traffic hazards and other nuisances in the neighborhood. It can also be argued that the many people associated with those "drug houses" are likely to have criminal records or other undesireable characteristics. Neighbors also complain about the strong, skunk-like odor that emanates from these growing locations, as well as the fact that there tends to be activity 24 hours a day there. In short, having a marijuana drug house in the neighborhood is like having a trouble magnet that no family wants to be exposed to.

It is because of the many problems associated with illegal marijuana grows and sales houses that local law enforcement is compelled to act. In Ceres alone, more than 6,000 pounds of marijuana have been seized from neighborhood grows during the last 30 days. These efforts have been a drain on our limited police and other city resources, yet they were a necessary attempt to reduce the negative impacts of the marijuana business in our neighborhoods. During the past year, statewide, the value of marijuana seized is surely in the billions of dollars, so you can only imagine what all of this has cost taxpayers.

There are any number of arguments that can be made both for legalizing or the continued criminalization of marijuana. And one can reasonably conclude that the medical marijuana provisions allowed by California state law seem to be intentionally designed to de facto legalize marijuana. This tends to suggests that marijuana use has been trending towards a greater level of mainstream societal acceptance. The fact that marijuana use and possession remains illegal at the federal level, and that it is being grown with the state's approval, makes for an untenable situation. As long as this particular drug remains a Schedule 1 substance, it is illegal and will continue to attract persons with criminal propensities. Large marijuana grows simply do not belong in residential neighborhoods, and at the same time, the state and federal governments need to clarify the laws pertaining to the growing, distribution and use of marijuana. The situation as it stands now is not working and our communities are paying the price in more ways than one.
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