So, yesterday the San Francisco Chronicle published a PRWEB press release about “[Chris] Van Hook, an attorney well-versed in medical marijuana law and the founder of the Clean Green Certified inspection program,” who is helping California Counties “ensure that local medical marijuana growers and dispensaries are operating in accordance with state and local laws.” Van Hook is apparently running around to different counties encouraging them to implement a marijuana inspection program similar to the USDA National Organic Program. He’s encouraging “vendors who supply local collectives” (i.e. growers) to be forced to purchase business licenses and to be certified by his new inspection agency. His new inspection agency would be required, of course, to work under the direct supervision of an attorney. (He’s a lawyer. What else would you expect?)
Now, setting aside the dubious assumption that the only way for an industry to be considered legitimate and legal is for it to be heavily regulated for a moment, the first thing that struck me was: Wait a minute! It’s (more or less) illegal to grow cannabis for sale in California. If this guy is as experienced as the press release claims, he should know that virtually every medical marijuana case that comes before the courts pivots around the question of whether the individual whose liberties have been deprived was growing/carrying/and or possessing enough marijuana ‘for personal use’. Just a couple of months ago there was a rather ridiculous case in Modesto where the accused, who held both a verified medical marijuana card and a doctors order, was arrested because the quantity of processed marijuana s/he possessed was considered too small and was therefore inconsistent with the growing operation found at the residence. Therefore, the cops asserted, s/he was growing ‘with the intent to sell’—the standard umbrella charge.
Right now, growing marijuana is legal in California ‘for personal use’—though what amount constitutes enough for personal use is dubious, even with a doctor’s order. Never-the-less, the courts have refused to allow an affirmative defense. If the cops decide whatever amount you have on you (over the clearly stated half-pound allowed under State Law) is too much for your personal use, or now apparently to little, they can arrest you. Then you’ll have drain your bank account to prove your medical use case in court. Right now, cannabis clubs and dispensaries are nominally legal as they are covered somewhat thinly by the State Attorney General’s guidance on the matter, though the courts maintain they flatly refuse to be bound by the AG’s guidelines. The only part of the puzzle that remains seriously gray under California’s current crazy quilt of medical marijuana laws is the very part on which Van Hook is running around advising local governments: The supply of medicine by growers to dispensaries. And given the current legal situation, his advice to local governments seems crazy!
Is Van Hook seriously suggesting that California Counties put themselves on the hook for inspecting an agricultural product that it is essentially illegal to market under State law and blatantly illegal under Federal law? Is Van Hook suggesting that counties, some of which are totally dependent upon their marijuana growers for their financial survival, force their growers out into the open by mandating business licenses and agricultural inspections of their operations? (Come on in, DEA. You’re welcome!) And even after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich, is Van Hook seriously suggesting the State of California take on the Federal Government over the issue?
I seriously hope it’s none of the above. Hopefully Van Hook is merely preparing California Counties for the time when marijuana is fully legal, but (unfortunately heavily) regulated. Such a time is coming, but it may be a few years off. First, California voters will have to approve State legalization via the coming 2012 ballot initiative. Second, the Frank/Paul bill will have to pass and become law, removing Federal criminalization and returning control of the drug to the states (where all drug enforcement properly belongs). But that may be even further down the road. Congress is extremely distracted by the bright shiny issues that attract media attention, and is likely to stay so through the coming election cycle. So unless Federal decriminalization suddenly becomes a darling of the national media (and if it does, there’s a 50/50 chance it will be cast in a negative light, rather than a positive one), don’t look for the bill to gain enough traction to fly through Congress on wings. Too, the DEA is unlikely to let funding for its ‘war on drugs,’ of which marijuana is a major part, go without a fight. So push back by the agency will be hard and harsh; the will of the people be damned.
In the mean time, Van Hook needs to be very very careful about what actions he advises his clients to take—and when.