New Pot Club Laws Change Little, Says NORML

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday September 04, 2008 - 09:22:00 AM

California Attorney General Jerry Brown has issued new guidelines for medical marijuana clubs, but Northern California’s leading cannabis advocate says they don’t represent any major changes. 

The new guidelines “could be a healthy development, if they indicate the attorney general wants the state to take over enforcement efforts and keep the DEA out of it,” said Dale Gieringer, state coordinator for California NORML. 

The National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has been at the forefront of the effort to decriminalize cannabis, and the California group was a leading proponent of Proposition 215, the 1996 statewide ballot initiative that provided state-level legal protection for patients authorized by a physician to use the drug. 

But protections provided by 215 and SB 420 are preempted under federal law and court case by federal law and the power of the Justice Department’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has repeatedly targeted California cannabis clubs of all types. 

The conflicts between the two systems were seen in Berkeley, where after a July 25, 2007, raid by DEA agents and police on an affiliated club in Los Angeles, the agency seized the bank accounts of the Berkeley Patients Group, which has operated from a developer-doomed building at 2747 San Pablo Ave. 

Berkeley has three clubs, Gieringer said, though one now apparently exists without an office. 

“That’s the one that used to operate out of the Long Haul,” he said, referring to the office building for radical groups on Shattuck Avenue near the Oakland border, which was raided last week by campus police in search of the source of threatening e-mails sent to campus researchers. 

The Berkeley Cannabis Club was evicted by the Long Haul board after six years, and Gieringer said members now meet privately to ensure their marijuana supplies. 

Representatives of the Berkeley Patients’ Care Collective at 2590 Telegraph Ave. declined to comment for this story, and the spokesperson for the Berkeley Patients Group was unavailable by Wednesday’s deadline. 

The attorney general’s approach has been to wield both carrot and stick, promising the maximum protection for member-owned dispensaries and raiding those that deal in pot for profit. 

On Aug. 25, the same day his office unveiled the new guidelines for keeping marijuana use within the boundaries prescribed by state law, press officer Christine Gasparac sent out a press release in which Brown announced a raid conducted three days earlier at a Northridge club described as “a front for massive illegal drug sales.” 

But Gieringer said California laws, which currently favor only “hippie-dippie” coops and collectives, should be revised to include for-profit businesses. 

“There’s no reason they shouldn’t be businesses,” he said, adding, “Isn’t it interesting that everyone who makes legal drugs is a multinational corporation that makes tons of money?” 

Of more significance for Berkeley could be two pending pieces of legislation, Gieringer said. 

On a state level, Assembly Bill 2279, drafted by San Francisco legislator Mark Leno, would bar employers of patients who use medically prescribed marijuana from dismissing them for drug use. Leno drafted the bill after the state Supreme Court upheld the right of employers to fire medical marijuana users if they tested positive for cannabinoids. 

The measure is on the desk of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The bill didn’t receive a single Republican vote in either house of the legislature, Gieringer said. 

The second measure, on the Berkeley ballot in November, is Measure JJ, which would set clear guidelines for siting marijuana clinics in the community. 

Gieringer said he believes existing state legislation could be redrafted to eliminate inconsistencies and make enforcement easier both for the clubs and medical marijuana users and for law enforcement.