The legality of medical marijuana in cities across California is a foggy subject and local governments are struggling to decide how dispensaries should be managed.
While some cities have no ordinances banning the business of medical marijuana dispensaries, Fullerton and other cities have taken measures to keep these pot-distributing cooperatives away.
Currently, marijuana has been legalized in various states for medicinal purposes, but ironically, the drug is still classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. This implies that marijuana still has a high potential for abuse and is not currently accepted for use in medical treatment.
Technically, dispensaries should be able to operate legally as long as theyâ€™re nonprofit. However, many cities have avoided the additional costs of law enforcement, zoning regulations and overall community impact. In effect, many cities have enacted ordinances that prohibit the business of medical marijuana dispensaries. In February 2008, Fullertonâ€™s City Council overturned the decision to allow dispensaries in town in a 4-1 vote.
Don Bankhead, a Cal State Fullerton alumnus and Fullertonâ€™s current mayor pro-tem, served on the Fullerton City Council in 2008. Â Based on his own marijuana research, his vote against the dispensaries was justified by his disagreement with the methods being used to distribute the drug and the ease of access to individuals.
â€œIf there is an actual medical benefit, it should be disbursed the same way as other medicine. It should be prescribed by doctors that practice medicine and dispensed through a regular pharmaceutical,â€ he said.
In July, a Fullerton marijuana dispensary was shut down by local authorities for being too close to an elementary school and in August, a marijuana transaction went sour when a courier was robbed of $20,000 worth of pot by three men pretending to run a legitimate dispensary.
â€œMarijuana dispensaries, collectives and cooperatives are not allowed to operate within the city of Fullerton,â€ said Fullerton Police Sgt. Andrew Goodrich in a July ABC 7 news brief.
Staying out of the limelight is the Advanced Holistic Healthcare collective, a family-owned and operated, nonprofit organization out of Buena Park. Unlike its dispensary counterparts, the AHH collective is strictly a delivery service and has been in business since March.
The AHH collective delivers around a 10-mile radius, from Cerritos to Fullerton, and offers medical marijuana to be smoked, grown or eaten.
According to Michelle Perry, AHHâ€™s chief financial officer, the majority of clients fall between the age of 18 to 86 years old, with the most frequent return clients being around the age of 50.
â€œWe get a lot of doctor referrals, so once they come in we basically become their pharmacy,â€ said Perry.
Perry feels Orange County authorities are a bit skeptical about the types of patients that marijuana dispensaries serve. She used people that have tattoos as an analogy to make the point that those who seek medical marijuana are looked down on and misunderstood by an uninformed society.
Even with the 2008 ordinance in place, Fullerton is still prone to the covert distribution of medical marijuana.
Joshua Serrano, 23, a marketing major, lives in Placentia and knows of distribution networks other than dispensaries.
â€œIâ€™ve got friends that smoke. A couple of them get it from clinics, but a majority of them just buy off pot dealers or other friends. Itâ€™s definitely not hard to come by if you really want it,â€ he said.
A couple of his friends even have medical marijuana cards and Serrano said theyâ€™re not hard to obtain.
â€œMy friend just said that his back was hurting and my other buddy just said he couldnâ€™t sleep and they were able to acquire cards,â€ he said.
Because various cities have enacted different policies concerning dispensaries, there is a lot of confusion on how to deal with medical marijuana. While proliferation of dispensaries may increase the abuse of marijuana, without them, individuals who truly rely on the drug for medical purposes may suffer.