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COURSEY: Marijuana goes mainstream

The top vote-getter in Sebastopol's City Council race this year is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary club, participates in the Apple Blossom Parade and is a former member of the city's planning commission.

In other words, Robert Jacob is your typical local elected official.

But he also runs a $5 million-a-year business selling medical marijuana, an occupation that is illegal under federal law. A story today by staff writer Bob Norberg suggests that Jacobs may be the first such businessman elected to public office in California.

I bring this up not to raise questions about Jacob, whose business operation has received kudos from the police chief and whose campaign garnered more than 29 percent of the vote in a five-way race. I mention it to highlight the stark disconnect between federal law, which considers Jacob a criminal, and local custom, which considers him a pillar of the community.

And he's just one example of the vast gulf that yawns between federal and state marijuana laws in this country. Yesterday's newspaper carried an Associated Press story about the landlord of a building that houses the huge Harborside Health Center medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland. The feds have told Ana Chretien that they will seize her building if she doesn't evict the pot shop from doing business there. But a state judge ruled last week that Chretien can't throw out her tenant because state law allows the distribution of medical marijuana.

Which law is she supposed to follow?

Colorado and Washington voters last month approved initiatives legalizing the possession and use of small amounts of marijuana for any reason — medical or recreational. But in Washington — for now, at least — there's no place to legally buy pot for recreational use. In Colorado, business groups are asking the federal government to enforce its anti-marijuana laws in their state despite the popular vote.

But, just as it is in California, the marijuana genie is out of the bottle in Colorado and Washington. Both states previously approved the use of medical marijuana, and that has led to retail-like dispensaries on main streets and in traditional business districts. With loose standards regarding the kind of medical conditions that can be treated with marijuana, practically anyone can get a physician's recommendation/prescription, and almost anyone growing or selling the stuff does — or will before he or she gets to court.

The result is that pot is becoming closer and closer to becoming legal, in fact and practice if not in law and legislation.

California voters in 2010 rejected an initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, but following the Colorado and Washington victories supporters say it will be back on the California ballot no later than 2014. A Quinnipiac University poll released today said the majority of Americans now support legalization, according to Reuters. And, given a 2-1 tilt in support among younger voters, legalization "is just a matter of time," said pollster Peter Brown.


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