The big shootout early last week in the Amador County town of Ione is a reminder of the dangers of growing medical marijuana. One grower is dead with an empty shotgun in his hands and five Sacramento gang suspects are in custody, though others appeared to have eluded capture.
Home invasions for small-time medical marijuana growers and even those growing only for themselves have happened several times in El Dorado County. Often the thugs will dress up in policelike gear. The gangsters in Ione showed up wearing “a flak vest” that read SWAT and had flashing police lights.
It’s a story that repeats itself around the region and the state.
The grower had physician recommendations to grow 99 plants for each patient.
The other issue is when is a medical marijuana growing operation too big? Three people from El Dorado County have been sent to prison over that issue, with two of them recently hauled off to federal prison. Some of that federal prosecution has since cooled down under President Obama’s more lenient policy toward California’s medical marijuana scene. But that is an unofficial policy and can change with a different administration.
Proposition 215, the medical marijuana initiative, was passed by 55.6 percent of the vote in November 1996. Last year the California Supreme Court threw out limits on personal cultivation that the Legislature adopted, saying an initiative cannot be amended by statute.
We opposed Proposition 215, fearing it was a side route to full legalization. We have no doubt that many medical pot users are not AIDS, cancer or glaucoma patients. And we’re not sure that those with AIDS need it anymore since advances in traditional medications have largely reduced the impact of AIDS.
What we did not anticipate when we opposed the initiative was the large grow operations by grouping permits and the way the criminal class would prey on growers big and small, even the simple one-person medical marijuana grower. One has to credit the thugs for their intelligence gathering, ferreting out small grows from Garden Valley to San Juan Ridge in Nevada County. Though 779 plants in Ione wouldn’t be too difficult to spot. Ione is not much of a town, with two roads in and out. It takes all of three minutes to cruise through town and then you’re either headed for Mule Creek Prison or into the countryside.
Another problem has been medical marijuana stores. Banks are reluctant to serve them because selling marijuana still remains against federal law. The banks treat the federal government with kid gloves. Stores are supposedly nonprofit. A store in Placerville closed down after it didn’t meet conditions of the Placerville Police Department’s permit and couldn’t keep its books straight. No doubt the hairdresser’s shop was relieved to no longer have the odor of huge quantities of fresh pot wafting into its shop.
But in Oakland and Berkeley the shops are big business. In Los Angeles the pot shops are popping up like gophers. In a Caddy Shack move the city has ordered 141 to close as illegal. The 141 didn’t even bother to participate in the city’s lottery for 238 permits. Stopping pot shops there is like playing whack-a-mole.
For rampant criminality, for dispensary licensing problems, for questionable medical recommendations, for grow size inconsistency, for all these reasons it is time for the state to step in. Medical marijuana should be grown and distributed in state stores like other states have government liquor stores.
The individual grower with a doctor’s recommendation can still do his or her own grow, but farming out doctor recommendations to professional growers has got to stop. Let the state be the big grower and the dispenser and charge sales taxes. State stores can keep track of how much is dispensed to an individual each year so that person doesn’t exceed the prescribed limit.
A state takeover of the business of medical marijuana will solve and ameliorate a lot of issues.