SAN FRANCISCO—Attorney General Kamala Harris urged California lawmakers Wednesday to get serious about clarifying the state’s 15-year-old medical marijuana law, saying numerous holes in the notoriously liberal statute have left law enforcement and legitimate patients in a near-constant state of uncertainty.
In a letter to the Legislature’s leaders, Harris said the state needs to spell out if the hundreds of storefront dispensaries and delivery services that sell marijuana—purportedly for medical use—are legal, or if the only lawful way to obtain the drug is through patient collectives in which all members jointly grow their own supplies.
“Without a substantive change to existing law, these irreconcilable interpretations of the law, and the resulting uncertainty for law enforcement and seriously ill patients, will persist,” she wrote in the letter to Senate President Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez.
Harris, a Democrat who was elected with backing from the state’s medical marijuana industry, has been under pressure to defend it since October, when the four federal prosecutors based in California announced a coordinated effort to shut retail pot shops they described as ruses for public drug dealing. Dozens have since closed.
“The federal government is ill-equipped to be the sole arbiter of whether an individual or group is acting within the bounds of California’s medical marijuana laws when cultivating marijuana for medical purposes,” Harris wrote to her federal counterparts, noting that U.S. law does not recognize any health benefits in the drug.
As California’s top law enforcement official, the attorney general is empowered under the medical marijuana law to issue guidelines on such issues as what users need to do to avoid arrest. Harris’ office spent much of 2011 preparing to revise the guidance Gov. Jerry Brown, in his previous role as attorney general, issued in 2008.
Instead, she said in the letters sent Wednesday, she concluded after consulting representatives from local governments, law enforcement and medical marijuana community that it was really up to the Legislature to provide clarification because any directives she issued would by definition lack the force of law.
“The facts today are far more complicated than was the case in 2008,” Harris said in her letter to Steinberg and Perez. “I have come to recognize that non-binding guidelines will not solve our problems—state law itself needs to be reformed, simplified and improved to better explain to law enforcement and patients alike how, when and where individuals may cultivate and obtain physician-recommended marijuana.”
Posted: 12/21/2011 05:54:41 PM PST
Updated: 12/21/2011 08:05:02 PM PST