For anyone trying to regulate medical marijuana, 2011 was a mess. A somersaulting, upsidedown-roller-coastering, stomach-churning flip-flop of a mess.
Although the Obama administration started out a couple of years ago making nice to states that allowed some kind of medicinal pot use, it seemed to forget all that this year.
In June, a federal memo from a deputy attorney general warned that big grows are still big-time illegal. In July, the DEA decided pot still belongs on its Schedule One list of drugs with no redeeming medical importance. In early October, U.S. attorneys reportedly were warning California dispensaries and their landlords to shut down or face criminal charges and property seizures. Then in mid-October, the DEA swarmed in on a high-profile medical marijuana collective in Mendocino County.
And just when the feds were turning up the pressure, a state appeals court chimed in and panicked pretty much every California city that has tried to regulate marijuana by ruling that, ahem, you can't. That was Ryan Pack et al versus the Los Angeles County Superior Court, a murky little masterpiece involving Long Beach's plans for regulating dispensaries.
It's OK to ban dispensaries, the second appellate district court ruled in that case. It's even OK to restrict their hours. But you can't, say, set a maximum allowable number of dispensaries within city limits, because that authorizes something that federal law prohibits. That decision is now being appealed to the California Supreme Court. The League of California Cities just joined those asking the state's highest court to please sort this one out, because the lower court's decision "created confusion rather than clarity."
All that confusion has even the laissez-faire in Humboldt feeling laissez faint-hearted. Arcata, Eureka and Humboldt County have all put a temporary halt to issuing permits for any new marijuana dispensaries.
"Everything is in flux because in a sense the state courts have put zoning regulations in a state of confusion," said Larry Oetker, Arcata's community development director, in a telephone interview last week. "It's so dysfunctional. ... The federal and state government have absolutely failed to have any kind of coherent marijuana strategy."
Welcome to 2012.
-- Carrie Peyton Dahlberg