There's no denying the popularity of medical marijuana, with thousands of clubs, dispensaries and co-ops selling pot throughout California.
There's also no denying that the conflict between state and federal law remains a legal and regulatory nightmare nearly two decades after Golden State voters approved Proposition 215, the nation's first medical marijuana law.
And there's no denying that Lake County's Measure D, which would grant special rights to medical marijuana growers, would add yet another layer of haze to a conflict that needs to be reconciled before anyone can effectively chart the future of the marijuana business.
In Tuesday's primary election, The Press Democrat recommends a no vote on Measure D in Lake County.
This grower-backed initiative isn't a referendum on doctor-recommended medical marijuana, which is supported by 80 percent of California voters, according to a USC-Los Angeles Times poll published on Thursday. Rather, Measure D is an attempt to give pot growers carte blanche in Lake County. If it passes, you can expect to see similar initiatives elsewhere.
The sponsors say they want medical marijuana growers to have the same protections as other agricultural operations under Lake County's right-to-farm ordinance. But, as traditional farmers and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club point out, this initiative goes much further.
Measure D would give pot growers more protection than any other farmers enjoy. If it passes, the county would be unable to enforce erosion control, pesticide use or grading ordinances on marijuana farms. Moreover, it would override zoning codes, allowing cultivation in residential areas where farming isn't permitted.
"They want the shield of farming, but they don't want to have to play by the rules," Dave Rosenthal, an officer of the Lake County Farm Bureau, said.
Rosenthal hit on the biggest problem with the marijuana business in California: the rules or, more specifically, the inability to establish any rules.
Cities and counties are struggling to deal with the proliferation of dispensaries, and courts have issued conflicting directions. Since last fall, the federal government has been threatening to use asset forfeiture laws to target property owners who rent to dispensary operators and warning cities and counties not to issue permits that sanction medical marijuana sales.
Instead of addressing the conflict, marijuana advocates are pushing Measure D. Meanwhile, a bill pending in Sacramento purports to establish a statewide regulatory system, and recreational users are seeking another legalization vote.
The clash between state and federal law presents a political challenge, but at least six North Coast congressional candidates favor full legalization, and all 10 have criticized the federal crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries. Rep. Mike Thompson, who represents most of Lake County, favors medical use, and two governors have asked Congress to act, showing the potential for compromise.
If advocates are serious about ensuring that marijuana is available to people with serious illnesses, they should be pushing Congress, not self-serving initiatives. The Press Democrat recommends a no vote on Measure D in Lake County.
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