One of the more interesting sidelights of Wednesday’s vote in the Los City Council seeking to prepare a draft for yet another ballot initiative on the vexed question of medical marijuana came early in the proceedings.
During the public comments period, a young man who identified himself as William West and announced that he has had full-blown AIDS for the past 10 years made a rambling, two-minute statement about how medical marijuana has helped his condition—and how he feels about the recent closure of pot clinics amid a federal crackdown on some of them.
“My caregivers are shut down and pushed aside,” the speaker said, imploring City Council President Herb Wesson to do something about the situation. (Along with Council member Paul Koretz, Wesson is pushing for an ordinance that will allow a tighter but more accommodating medical marijuana landscape in Los Angeles.)
“Please … find a medium.”
Regardless of what compromise the City Council is able to come up with, a glaring, largely unarticulated question still remains: Will federal authorities continue to prosecute owners of pot clinics even after the City Council passes new laws to regulate the local medical marijuana industry?
The question is an important one because, according to a recent article in The Atlantic monthly magazine, a single prosecution of a marijuana clinic costs taxpayers as much as $1 million.
Titled “The High Cost of Shutting Down One Medical Marijuana Operation,” the Jan. 14 article recounts the case of Matthew R. Davies, a 34-year-old entrepreneur who is being prosecuted for growing and selling medical marijuana in the recently bankrupt city of Stockton, CA.
A U.S. attorney appointed by President Obama in 2009 wants Davies, a father or two, “to agree to a plea that includes a mandatory minimum of five years in prison,” according to The Atlantic.
“Let’s set the legal questions aside and think through the costs of this course,” says the article, listing seven concerns, including $235,000 in incarceration costs and the likelihood that unsavory drug dealers, including violent cartels, would fill in the void left by prosecuted, tax-paying entrepreneurs such as Davies.
“Doesn't that seem awfully ‘expensive’ when the only real benefit is sending the message that you can't get away with openly flouting federal drug laws?” asks the magazine. “If that's the biggest benefit you can plausibly claim, isn't that a sign that the law should change?”
Eagle Rock novelist Mark Haskell Smith, who explored the underground world of botanists and farmers who grow pot in his recent nonfiction book, Heart of Dankness, thinks that the reportedly high cost of prosecuting people in the medical cannabis industry is a shame, not to mention a waste of resources.
What’s more, Eagle Rock’s contribution to the city’s tax base has been substantially impaired by the recent shuttering of its medical marijuana dispensaries, leaving a string of empty storefronts in the neighborhood.
“If it's accurate,” said Smith, referring to the reported $1-million cost of a single prosecution—and presuming that the owners of the 10 or so pot clinics in Eagle Rock that have shut down are being or likely to be prosecuted—“looks like [Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council Immediate Past President] Michael Larsen and [Council member] José Huizar cost Eagle Rock about $ 10 million.”
Both Larsen and Huizar have fought to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries in Eagle Rock, arguing that they are illegal businesses that also disrupt the neighborhood’s quality of life.