High time to clear medical pot’s haze of uncertainty

It’s been 15 years since California voters legalized medical marijuana. That would seem to be ample time to develop sane policies that would allow those legitimately ill and disabled to have reasonable access to the drug, while putting safeguards in place to prevent the proliferation of pot shops that are nothing more than fronts for recreational sales.

Yet that hasn’t happened.

As a result, we continue to see communities wringing their hands over whether to allow medical marijuana outlets in any form.

Even worse, patients and providers are left in legal limbo as criminal prosecutors square off against defense attorneys over points of law in cases that consume too much time and too many public resources.

Case in point: Last week, San Luis Obispo County Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera dismissed criminal charges against six people arrested in December 2010, following a two-month investigation of mobile medical marijuana collectives. The arrests occurred after an undercover officer posed as a patient buying medical marijuana.

The prosecution contended that the defendants violated the law in selling it, under the theory that patients should have to join a collective and contribute to the physical cultivation of marijuana.

The judge drafted a jury instruction, however, that used a broader definition that referred to “labor, resources or money” as reasonable contributions.

With that, the prosecution decided not to move forward, though the District Attorney’s Office indicated that it may appeal the judge’s ruling to get clarity on the law.

We agree that clarity is exactly what’s needed. That’s why we paid close attention last month when state Attorney General Kamala Harris asked the Legislature to take up the issue.

Harris wrote: “ 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 physicianrecommended marijuana. In short, it is time for real solutions, not half-measures.”

She cautioned that the Legislature cannot undo what the voters already decided, which means qualified patients must still be allowed to cultivate and possess marijuana.

However, she believes the Legislature can resolve other issues — including whether “cultivate” should be strictly interpreted to require the patient or caregiver to be involved in the actual growing, or interpreted loosely enough to allow patients to contribute by purchasing the drug through nonprofit dispensaries.

She also urges the Legislature to clarify what is meant by “nonprofit” by determining what costs are reasonable and what compensation may be paid to workers.

Such clarifications are long overdue. While lawmakers have made some efforts to establish rules and regulations for medical marijuana distribution, too many questions remain unanswered.

We strongly urge the Legislature to follow the attorney general’s advice and craft legislation that will dispel the haze of uncertainty over medical marijuana.