Commentary: Medical marijuana — Still hazy after all these years

Thirteen years after California voters approved medical marijuana, we seem to be increasingly confused over how it should be sold — or if it is even legal.

Until recently, medical marijuana dispensaries were rare. But two events triggered an explosion of outlets: state Attorney General Jerry Brown issued guidelines for sales of the drug last year, and the Obama administration said it wouldn't prosecute individuals complying with state medical marijuana laws.

These actions are forcing many cities throughout the state — including Fresno — to finally address the sale of medical marijuana instead of ignoring what the voters wrought in 1996.

Just four years ago, Los Angeles had four shops. Now there are more than 600. Reacting to citizen complaints of crime and blight brought on by the shops, the city attorney there is proposing tough new rules that would require dispensaries to grow their own marijuana in secured locations at least 1,000 yards from schools and parks.

Fresno didn't have a single shop until this year. By summer, a dozen dispensaries and two delivery services could be found on the Internet. Responding to public concerns about blight and sales to underage customers, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer started an effort to regulate medical marijuana by limiting sales to "collectives" in which the drug is grown and made available only to collective members.

In addition, Fresno is using its regulatory powers to shut down dispensaries, using an ordinance that requires medical marijuana sellers to comply with both state and federal laws. Despite U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's declaration that the feds would look the other way, federal law still regards the drug -- even when used for medical purposes -- as illegal.

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