L.A. police say marijuana dispensaries a failed idea
By Melissa Tanji
WAILUKU — Hawai'i could see an increase in crime and other economic fallout if it legalizes medical marijuana dispensaries and softens medical marijuana laws, two Los Angeles police officers told the Hawaii Medical Marijuana Summit.
"It's so bad in L.A.," said Sgt. Eric Bixler of the Narcotics Division of the Los Angeles Police Department. He said law enforcement officials there deal daily with the effects of California's Proposition 215, which allows patient caregivers to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical use. People driving while smoking, and teens buying marijuana at dispensaries to resell on the street are just some of the problems caused by the law, the officers said.
Bixler and another Los Angeles officer were among the presenters at a Hawaii Medical Marijuana Summit offered Wednesday for law enforcement and other community members at Baldwin High School's multipurpose room. They appeared on behalf of the California Narcotic Officers' Association that trains law enforcement officials in narcotic enforcement activities.
The Hawai'i Legislature is considering several proposals that would loosen marijuana restrictions, including proposals that would allow the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Sen. J. Kalani English, D-6th (East Maui, Moloka'i, Lāna'i), who was among the lawmakers to introduce bills to loosen restrictions on marijuana, said his bills were different from California's medical marijuana laws because he was aware of some of the problems attributed to Proposition 215. He said he took the "best" features of medical marijuana legislation across the country to craft proposals that would have stricter controls on the drug and avoid pitfalls seen in other jurisdictions.
English's bills, one of which would legalize and tax dispensaries as a way of generating revenue for the state, and the other of which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, have passed from the Senate to the House for discussion.
There are already around 6,000 medical marijuana patients in Hawai'i, English noted.
Taxing medical marijuana at a rate of $30 per ounce as English proposes could net the state around $60 million in new revenues each year, he said; and English proposes splitting the take between the state and counties.
English objected to the summit, saying the meeting only represented the views of medical marijuana opponents and was based only on the views of the LAPD. He felt that event organizers should have invited people with a variety opinions for a real dialogue about the issue.
PROP. 215 WAS FOCUS
Most of the presentations Wednesday were set to focus on Proposition 215, which was passed by California voters in 1996. The law allows patients and their caregivers with a valid doctor's approval to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical use. It also protects a system of collective and cooperative cultivation and distribution of marijuana.
Because the meeting was closed to journalists, Bixler and Det. Glenn Walsh of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department Narcotics Division spoke to reporters outside the room.
Bixler said it's not uncommon to see someone "smoking out" while driving down the street, and that he has seen teenagers walk out of dispensaries with marijuana and sell the drug to their friends.
"We have more (marijuana) dispensaries than Starbucks," Walsh added, saying Los Angeles alone has around 900 to 1,000 dispensaries.
The two officers said there are many misconceptions about Proposition 215, including that it allows medical marijuana "dispensaries."
Bixler said dispensaries or self-described "compassion centers" are actually "storefront marijuana dealers."
Walsh dismissed advocates' claims that legalizing and taxing marijuana could be a potential source of revenue for states, saying other vice taxes, such as those levied on alcohol and cigarettes, do not offset the greater cost of social problems to the community.
Both officers expressed concern that English's bill, if passed, would allow Hawai'i's four counties to each establish their own laws governing dispensaries. Walsh and Bixler said that a lack of consistency from county to county made it difficult to enforce the law.
For example, a dealer could purchase the drug somewhere like Mendocino County, which allows citizens to possess up to 2 pounds of dried marijuana, and then take it to other counties to sell.
English didn't think that would be a problem in Hawai'i if his bill became law.
Under his proposal, the amount of medical marijuana a patient could possess would be the same across all counties.