When the issue of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in Santa Monica is raised, opponents immediately point to those who do not necessarily have a serious illness — stoners. These are people who like to smoke pot because they want to get high. Some use marijuana to relieve stress and relax, but they could live without it and still be productive. Those who are against dispensaries do not want to make it easier for these types of tokers to light up. They say let them drive to Venice or West Los Angeles to get their drugs.
But lost in this immediate leap to discredit the need for dispensaries are those patients who depend on medical marijuana to make it through the day. These are people struggling to eat because of nausea brought on by chemotherapy or those who can’t sleep because of excruciating pain in their limbs. These are people who would normally be looked on with sympathy, but because they smoke marijuana they are dismissed.
The lack of studies — a result of the federal prohibition on smoking or possessing pot — naturally contributes to this belief that weed has no medical value, but when talking with patients who use the drug it becomes clear that it does have some benefits. So why deny them access?
Since pot seems to provide relief to those who are ill, Santa Monica, a community known for its compassion, needs to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to open up shop within its borders. It’s not for the casual smoker, even though they will benefit from having dispensaries closer to their homes. It’s about those patients who couldn’t function without it. Why force them to find transportation to Venice or West Hollywood to get their medication when they could walk down the street or catch a Big Blue Bus to make a run to their drug store? It’s not so easy to travel out of town to a dispensary when you are constantly throwing up and are fatigued from not eating enough food. Just because there are dispensaries in neighboring areas doesn’t mean Santa Monica residents should be denied the right to get their medicine close to home.
That is why this newspaper supports establishing clear guidelines so that collectives can open up a limited number of marijuana dispensaries in Santa Monica. It must be done right the first time, though, or we risk experiencing the explosion that Los Angeles is struggling with. All city officials have to do is look to West Hollywood for guidance. The city to our east has managed to set up a system that seems successful, one that has addressed the concerns of residents and law enforcement by creating conditions that limit negative factors.
Those conditions include limiting the number if dispensaries to four in the entire city and making sure that no two could open up within a certain distance of one another. We like those restrictions, especially for Santa Monica, which is a town of only 8.3 square miles. We would like to see a policy where the number of shops is limited to four or five and restricted to major thoroughfares like Main Street or Santa Monica Boulevard. To ensure that the dispensaries are not concentrated in one area there would be a distance restriction as well as a prohibition against having more than one shop on one particular street.
Hours would also need to be limited, say from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Shops would be required to have security on site during operating hours, closed circuit security cameras running 24 hours a day and adequate controls to ensure that no minors are served.
Keeping the shops away from schools and places of worship would be preferred, as would proper signage that doesn’t make patients feel like criminals (no blacked-out windows) or flaunts the existence in the face of residents (large green crosses).
As far as allowing the dispensaries to grow marijuana on site, this newspaper believes the market should dictate that. Those who run dispensaries told city officials last month during a public meeting that they probably would not grow anyway because of the cost of renting a space large enough to suffice.
By setting up clear guidelines with community input, City Hall could ensure that dispensaries are operating in proper areas and with little objection. Perhaps the policy could be put in place on a temporary basis, allowing for one or two shops to open for one year and then have them monitored to see if any problems arise. City officials could place an additional fee on these businesses to help cover the cost of keeping track.
There are those who will argue that dispensaries will only contribute to crime. But aren’t liquor stores also nuisance businesses that have been allowed to operate in Santa Monica? If dispensaries are such a crime magnet, why not restrict the number of liquor stores as well, which attract alcoholics and aggressive panhandlers looking to get enough money for their next hit of Jack Daniels? There are 330 businesses that sell alcohol operating in Santa Monica, according to figures from 2011. That’s an average of 39 liquor-vending outlets per square mile. If Santa Monicans can tolerate that number, what’s four medical marijuana dispensaries? Those who run dispensaries in other areas say they have helped drive out criminal elements with their beefed up security. If proper guidelines are in place, crime shouldn’t be a factor.
Elected officials need to let go of their unfounded fears and provide patients with proper access to their medication. Failing to do so is cruel and plays on the hysteria propagated for generations, whether it be by film (“Reefer Madness”) or public policy (see failed war on drugs). It’s time for some common sense to bring about a solution.
And for those who are peeved that stoners can easily get a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana, the focus should be on those unscrupulous physicians who issue them without fully vetting their patients and not on punishing those who truly need it to function.