Opinionator

Why I want a marijuana dispensary near my kids’ school

By Tamar Todd

Tamar Todd is the mother of three wonderful children and a staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Last week, one of California’s oldest and most respected medical marijuana dispensaries, Berkeley Patients Group, closed its doors. It shut down because its landlord, like dozens across the state, received a letter from United States Attorney Melinda Haag threatening to seize the property for renting to a medical marijuana dispensary located within 1,000 feet of a school. My three children attend elementary school and preschool in West Berkeley, just blocks from Berkeley Patients Group. The notion that the closure of Berkeley Patients Group is going to somehow serve to protect my children is patently absurd.

Berkeley Patients Group served thousands of medical marijuana patients in the Berkeley area for 12 years. It was an industry leader and a model of compassion and legal integrity. It was in strict compliance with state and local law, and has long worked with the City of Berkeley and the local community to provide a safe and responsible service to patients in need. As a small business, it employed 75 people and was one of the top sales tax generators in the city.

Ms. Haag has claimed that one of her concerns about dispensaries that are in close proximity to schools and parks and playgrounds is the possibility they could be the target of violence or armed robbery. Banks and pharmacies are also targets of armed robberies and there are a number of them located in West Berkeley. Like Berkeley Patients Group, they have security. There is no evidence to suggest, and I have never felt, that it is dangerous to send my children to a school that happened to be near a bank, or a pharmacy.

West Berkeley is not crime-free. There have been a number of shootings in the blocks surrounding my children’s elementary school in past several years. There is also significant illicit drug traffic in the neighborhood. The two are likely connected. But thus far, Ms. Haag and the federal government have devoted few, if any, resources to protecting children from gun violence or other crime in West Berkeley.

Instead, Ms. Haag has chosen to use her presumably limited resources to deprive the thousands of patients who frequent Berkeley Patients Group a legal, regulated, secure place to purchase desperately needed medicine. Of course, the closure of Berkeley Patients Group does not mean that these thousands of people will stop buying and using medical marijuana. They are sick, in pain, and are allowed to purchase and consume marijuana under settled California law (a law that was approved by voters overwhelmingly). Ms. Haag says that she is not going after medical marijuana patients. But she must understand that patients will now simply have to find marijuana elsewhere, from the streets, and near schools and parks. Ms. Haag has not made these areas safer; she has simply increased the demand for an illegal and dangerous drug market.

Ms. Haag also claims that her crackdown on dispensaries is necessary because of problematic marijuana use by high school students. The reality is that between 1996 (when California passed its medical marijuana law) and 2008 there was an overall decrease in teens’ marijuana use. An analysis commissioned by the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs found “no evidence” to support the claim that legalization of medical marijuana in California increased marijuana use during this period. Providing thousands of new customers to illegal drug sellers on the street might increase access to marijuana by teenagers. The existence of Berkeley Patients Group, and other well-regulated small businesses across the state, does not.

Most offensive is the notion that legal access to medical marijuana sends the wrong message to kids. I find the existence of legal medical marijuana very easy to explain to my children. This is what I tell them: Research and science matter. The opinions of medical professionals matter. We should have compassion for those who are very sick, and even for those who are just a little sick; for those suffering the effects of chemotherapy or for returning veterans suffering from PTSD; that we should help meet people’s needs and ease pain as best we can (even if it goes against the conventional wisdom or drug war ideology). I tell my children that it is better for people to buy marijuana from a safe, well-regulated source, than on the street.

I tell my children that the lives of children in Mexico matter too, where United States drug policy has led to the narcotics-related murders of nearly 50,000 people over the last five years, including thousands of children. That is the harm to children caused by marijuana prohibition, and a drug market that Ms. Haag’s actions directly fuel. The “threat” posed by Berkeley Patients Group, and other dispensaries like it, pales in comparison.

This article was first published in the Huffington Post. Berkeleyside welcomes submissions of op-ed articles of 500 to 800 words. We ask that we are given first refusal to publish. Topics should be Berkeley-related and local authors are preferred. Please email submissions to us. Berkeleyside will publish op-ed pieces at its discretion.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ODSIAGC55PNMR6HUVTUMTR7SQY chris o

     despite seeing family and friends damaged from addiction to pot.

    thats an OUTRIGHT LIE……….can anyone tell the truth anymore

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ODSIAGC55PNMR6HUVTUMTR7SQY chris o

     than how did minors get it before medical marijuana? every teenager in every high school in america can buy it when they want…even in those states with no medical marijuana

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ODSIAGC55PNMR6HUVTUMTR7SQY chris o

     really oxy is safe percocets are safe? you might want to do some homework prescription drugs are the number one killer in america babies are being born addicted to opiates Phen fen that was safe? asprin? that kills 10,000 people a year. FDA is not out to protect you those same doctors that approve the drug also own stock in the company that produces the drug still feel safe with the FDA?

  • bgal4

    Stoners who get MAD when the science of addiction is applied to marijuana are irrational. Study the dopamine reward system and then try to make a cogent argument, but stop degrading this dialog with ugly attacks.

  • Guest

    Yep, oxy is safe, Percocet is safe too – as long as you use them as they were intended to be used. We have hundreds of years of clinical experience with narcotics and they are among the most useful – and least toxic – drugs to be found. They can be abused, but ask the people who really need them if they think that they should live in pain just because somebody might get a habit. Phen fen was taken off the market. Aspirin kills 10,000 people a year? Where is your source for that? The FDA is not foolproof – but feel free to come up with a better system if you can think of one. Nor is it as corrupt as you seem to think – you are ignoring all the really useful drugs that have become available, and you probably don’t know about the useless ones that never made it over the FDA hurdles. 

  • eaglebeak

    Right on!!  I was a client with BPG and I have found the dispensary model is a clumsy and expensive  way to distribute pot.  If the legalizers were serious they would lobby Walgreen’s, CVS, and the big HMO’s like Kaiser to provide pot to patients/clients.  Let’s be real – IT’S ABOUT THE MONEY!!  The last state prop to legalize pot went down because voters (which included pot advocates!) were smart enough to note that it was about prop author Richard Lee and his phony dispensary pals becoming bigger millionares and keeping out the competition (like Kaiser or real pharmacies).

  • eaglebeak

    Let’s get my neighborhood right!  BPG is located in South Berkeley (not as yuppie sounding as West Berkeley).  There’s a Walgreen’s at the corner of Ashby and San Pablo Blvd.  There’s one small Wells Fargo (4:00 pm closing!) near Berkeley Bowl and that’s it – unless you consider the check cashing place across the street from BPG a bank branch!  One must go to University Blvd to find another bank branch or toward the Emeryville border for the B of A branch (always crowded).  I was a client of BPG and found the place too busy to have that personal touch.  Some of the staff could be moody unless the client was a buddy or part of their clique.  The ED was a fine gentleman who did the best he could to make the place work in the neighborhood. 

  • resonant1

    Do you live in a bubble? The FDA is not as corrupt as what?  Do you read the news at all?  The FDA is constantly involved in foibles.  And yes, it is corrupt as heck.  Whether you are pro cannabis or not its just willful ignorance to pretend like there is no politicking in the FDA approval process.

    In all these debates there’s always someone who smoked a few joints 15 years ago, and thinks they have medical marijuana all figured out.  You got high once, so you KNOW its not medicine because you listened to the Grateful Dead and slammed beers.

    Go to the cancer ward, see the suffering and the inability to eat even with the anti-emetics.  Hold the hand of someone who is dying.  I know I just did with my Dad and he had no option for medical cannabis being from Georgia.  It was a terrible sight to see him killed by simply being too thin to withstand the common cold.

    Interview someone with PTSD, ask them what their life is like.  Who are you to tell them that some round table in DC can tell them what gives them relief?  Ironically DC even has its own MMJ program.

    And just for giggles, if you follow the citations in this thread you’ll see among studies that NSAIDs/Aspirin can be correlated to intestinal bleeding which in turn has a mortality rate further complicated by taking more NSAIDs/Aspirin.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2698873/

    10,000 people a year?  I am not sure, maybe worldwide. But NSAIDs are damaging drugs and there is apparently an acceptable margin of mortality because the fact is people ARE dying directly from those drugs like aspirin but they are still on the market.

    Complex life ain’t it?

  • Guest

    Tamar, you want a marijuana dispensary near your kids’ school because you’re an attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance.  I mean let’s keep it real. 

  • CJ77JEFF

    I THINK UR ABSURD FOR WANTING A DISPENSERY NEAR UR KIDS SKOOL.I HAVE 3 KIDS IN HAWAII AND WE HAD A DISPENSER HERE THAT GOT SHUT DOWN CAUSE THE GUYS RUNNING IT WERE ACTUAL BIG TYME DRUG DEALERS.SO TO HAVE THAT NEAR UR KIDS SKOOL IS TRULY ABSURD OF U TO WANT IT THERE. I SMOKE MARIJUANA AND WE REALLY WANT A ANOTHER DISPENSERIE HERE BUT NOT NEAR A SKOOL FOOL!!!!DO U KNOW WHAT KIND PEOPLE ARE HANGING OUT NEAR THOSE AREAS JUST CAUSE THEY THINK THEY CAN SCORE FROM SOMEONE BUYING IT LEGALLY..I WAS AFRAID EVERYTIME I WALKED OUT CAUSE PEOPLE WOULD JUST RUN UP TO U AND ASK U TO BUY IT AND PULL OUT THERE BENJAMINS AND THEN WHAT!!UR A DRUG DEALER ALL OF A SUDDEN!!!!!!!!!!!SO NO IT SHOULDN’T BE NEAR ANY SKOOLS AT ALL….ALSO WE HAVE PHARMACIES AND BANKS ,BUT NO WHERE NEAR THE SKOOLS….THATS ANOTHER STUPID THING TO DO.W/ THE KIND DRUGz GOING AROUND AND EVERYONE ALL HIGH ON ALL KIND PILLS,U NEVER KNOW HOW SOMEONE WILL ACT WHEN THERE MIND IS BEING ALTERED WITH.I HAVE SEEN THE MOST SWEETEST ,KINDEST PEOPLE TURN INTO THE MOST EVILEST PERSON BECAUSE OF DRUGS…ITS NOTHING FUNNY TO PLAY W/………AND FOR THE PEOPLE THAT TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE DISPENSERIES,THANX ALOT FOR NOT SHARING………..WE REALLY NEED 1 OR 10 HERE ON THIS ISLAND SO WE DONT HAVE TO GROW OUR OWN AND GET RIPPED OFF BY FAMILY MEMBERS..WE NEED A LEGAL PLACE TO BUY WEED………INSTEAD OF CALLING OUR COURIERS TO DELIVER IT…………….

  • CJ77JEFF

    GIVING IT AWAY MEANS SHARING AND NO IT DOESN’T MAKE U A DEALER.SELLING=DEALER………..???

  • CJ77JEFF

    OF COURSE IT FUELS A BLACK MARKET.THATS HOW IT STARTED,CAUSE THE GOV. MAKES IT AND TAKES IT TOO…ONCE THEY START SOMEONE ON SOMETHING THEY GET HOOKED AND IF U TAKE IT AWAY,THEY WILL DO ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING THEY CAN TO GET THAT TASTE AGAIN,SO ITS THEIR FAULTS FOR MAKING IT IN THE FIRST PLACE.JUST IMAGINE THE BLACK MARKET IF THEY TOOK AWAY ALCOHOL ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!SIK SIK WORLD WE LIVE IN…………………CALL “JAH” HE WILL “SATISFY UR SOUL”