There is an item on the agenda for the Davis City Council this week, proposing an ordinance regulating marijuana cultivation. This item is necessitated by recently adopted legislation, the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, to comprehensively regulate medical marijuana.
Under the law which took effect on January 1, the city is required to have land use regulations in place that regulate or prohibit marijuana cultivation. City staff notes, “If the City has local regulations in place, the City may thereafter modify these regulations to meet the needs and desires of the City. However, should the City not have local regulations in place (and the State does not take action to eliminate or modify the March 1 deadline), the City would be pre-empted from adopting local regulations in the future.”
While the state is potentially looking at giving local communities more time on this issue, staff notes, “Since the adoption of the Act, cities and counties throughout California have been put in the position of needing to make a decision to either allow the state regulations to take effect by default, or to craft and adopt ordinances that retain local control. The timeframe for local governments to take action is exceedingly short and, in many respects, unprecedented. The timeframe provided by the Act leaves little to no opportunity for local governments to undertake meaningful research and community outreach as would otherwise be expected when drafting local regulations.”
Assemblymember Jim Wood, the bill’s author, has written a letter to local officials on his intent to introduce an emergency bill to fix the March 1 deadline for local action, and the governor’s office has said it would support the measure.
The staff report notes that the city already bans medical marijuana dispensaries, “but does not regulate or prohibit medical marijuana cultivation.”
To me, the bigger and more important issue should be whether this community re-examines the ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, particularly in light of the new law which creates a comprehensive state licensing system for the commercial cultivation, manufacture, retail sale, transport, distribution, delivery, and testing of medical cannabis. All licenses must also be approved by local governments.
The biggest problem with medical marijuana prior to this legislation is that it was loosely controlled, in part because, while California legalized medical marijuana, the federal government not only continued to make it illegal, it attempted to enforce the law through raids. That forced medical marijuana out of the hands of legitimate doctors and into a quasi-black market situation.
The new legislation would “set forth standards for a physician and surgeon prescribing medical cannabis.” Among other things, it would regulate the amount of cannabis the physicians could prescribe to patients and prosecute those who “repeatedly recommended excessive cannabis to patients for medical purposes or repeatedly recommended cannabis to patients for medical purposes without a good faith examination, as specified.”
While I am a big supporter of legalized marijuana in general, and in particular for the alleviation of pain and suffering for a variety of patients, the previous laws were lax in getting the marijuana to those in need.
A Time Magazine from this past summer notes that marijuana has been difficult to study because of its classification as a schedule-1 drug. Thus, “there is only moderate-quality evidence supporting the benefits of medical marijuana, and only for certain conditions.”
Scientists led by Penny Whiting from University Hospitals Bristol in the U.K. analyzed 79 randomized trials, and most of the studies showed “improvements among the participants taking the cannabinoid products over those using placebo.” The strongest evidence supported the ability to relieve chronic pain, but “the least reliable evidence involved things like nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, sleep disturbances and Tourette syndrome. Cannabinoids were, however, connected to more adverse events such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, disorientation and hallucinations than placebo.”
Summing up the state of the evidence, Ms. Whiting and her colleagues write, “Further large, robust, randomized clinical trials are needed to confirm the effects of cannabinoids, particularly on weight gain in patients with HIV-AIDS, depression, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, psychosis, glaucoma, and Tourette syndrome.”
Anecdotally, the evidence appears much stronger. I know a number of cancer patients who used marijuana in order to eat and therefore keep their strength while on chemotherapy, which enabled the body to recover much better than it would have otherwise.
For a so-called liberal community like Davis that overwhelming supported the medical marijuana initiative back in 1996, it is appalling that the voters would be willing to vote for medical marijuana but not allow people in need to receive it at dispensaries in this community.
Rather than looking at ordinances to ban cultivation of medical marijuana in the city, the city council should reconsider whether, in light of new regulations, we should have a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.
—David M. Greenwald reporting