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j. patrick coolican:

The blunt truth: Medical pot situation is an unclear mess, thanks to Legislature

Updated Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2011 | 1:06 p.m.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Medical marijuana affected by conflicting laws

Vegas Inc discusses the legal status of medical marijuana dispensaries in Nevada with attorney Robert Draskovich.

Nevada’s medical marijuana statute is a cruel farce, like a dark Kafka story for those in need of weed.

Passed by voters in 2000 as section 38 of Article 4 of the Nevada Constitution, the measure calls on the Legislature to approve “appropriate methods for supply of the plant to patients authorized to use it.”

Shocking: The Legislature largely ignored the mandate and told patients and caregivers to more or less fend for themselves.

So as it stands now, dispensaries are illegal, and even though you can grow your own plants, you may not purchase the seeds to grow them.

Patients and patient, um, advocates, have tested the law by opening large-volume “co-ops” and nonprofit dispensaries. In retrospect, it was probably foolish, as both local and federal law enforcement have cracked down.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in 2009 he would stop prosecutions of medical marijuana in states where it is legal, though the order was confused by a second one from his deputy David Ogden, who said the feds would prosecute growers and sellers who go big.

After all the arrests this year, here and in other states, medical marijuana advocates asked for some clarity, but Holder has yet to offer it.

No doubt Holder is thinking that the last thing President Obama needs is another moniker — “dope fiend abettor of the Mexican drug war” — to add to “America-hating Muslim socialist.”

On the local front, the medical marijuana community scored a victory recently when Judge Donald Mosley — whose reputation is hardly that of Louis Brandeis — dismissed a grand jury indictment against Leonard Schwingdorf of Sin City Co-Op (poor choice of name, kids!). The judge ordered the dismissal because the jury didn’t see exculpatory evidence that showed the pot wasn’t for sale and that a donation wasn’t required.

Robert Draskovich, Schwingdorf’s attorney, is a libertarian who was feeling the indignation when I talked to him: “They prosecuted cases that they shouldn’t be prosecuting, and then they broke the rules.”

Separately, the judge also questioned the law’s “you can smoke it but you can’t own it” ambiguity: “I’m looking at it thinking I can’t make any sense out of this law,” he said, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

I’m torn. On the one hand, I don’t want to see anyone suffer, so the Legislature should create regulations, as they have in other states, to enable patients to get their pot.

On the other hand, there’s a reason, back to Upton Sinclair and “The Jungle,” that the federal government regulates food and drugs. And I want the feds to maintain that primacy because they have the resources and can set national standards. What if I said to you, “Oh, I’ve got this awesome aspirin substitute. No side effects. Great pain relief.” Would you really want Nevada to decide if it were safe and effective? Wouldn’t you kind of want it to be tested and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, imperfect as that agency is?

Of course, while some will deny it, there’s no question that medical marijuana advocates were savvy enough to realize that if they could use the states and suffering patients to create a sweet-smelling smoke screen, swaths of the country would barrel right through that drug war brigade.

It hasn’t happened here in Nevada, but go to Venice Beach in California and you’ll see what I mean. It might as well be Amsterdam: Your medical marijuana card and your high-quality bud, right in the same place, right near the drum circle on the beach.

The problem is that it has also created a mostly unregulated market prone to thuggishness and unsafe and unstable working and cultivating conditions for growers, their workers and their weed.

The real answer, of course, is not the shortcut approach we’re using with medical marijuana, however effective it has been in creating national dialogue.

It’s time for a frank discussion here in Nevada and around the country about the failure of the drug war and especially the quixotic but still destructive war on pot, medicinal and not.

Obama can’t run on the economy, so maybe this is his winning issue.

UPDATED at 1:06 p.m. Tuesday:

I just talked to Lt. Laz Chavez of Metro narcotics, and he helped me understand this labyrinthine law. I originally said you can't "possess" the seeds to grow the plants if you're patient. I should have said you can't "purchase" the seeds. You can't sell marijuana, seeds, plants or clones, so ergo you can't buy them either. But Chavez says patients can give away seeds, or more commonly, clones, that will allow the other patient or his caregiver to grow marijuana legally. He also says Metro has no interest in messing with patients as long as they're not engaged in selling marijuana or other crimes.

I appreciate his help, but I still think the Legislature took a cowardly way out and need to address this at the next legislative session.

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