Friday, January 31, 2014
I'm late in joining the exchange between Doug and Rob on local control of marijuana policy. A couple of years ago, I chaired a City of San Diego task force on local regulation of medical marijuana. In California, there is very little state-wide regulation of medical marijuana (approaching zero.) And, in the absence of state control, it has been up to localities to fill the void.
The San Diego City Council established the task force on which I served in 2009 and we gave the City our recommendations in 2010. Although the City Council passed an ordinance based in large part on our recommendations, it was rescinded after a backlash from dispensary owners (who used a quirky signature gathering procedure that we have to force Council's hand on the issue). Today, San Diego has no medical marijuana ordinance and dispensaries operate in a gray area here (to the extent they are able to operate at all.)
My experience on the task force convinced me more than ever of the value in state-wide regulation when it comes to marijuana policy. There are many aspects of marijuana policy that cities and counties are really not equipped to handle. And plenty of others that can be addressed locally but are much more efficiently handled at the state level.
That said, I do think there is real value in local control on some points. I lean towards Doug's view that cities and counties should be permitted to ban retail sale of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, for example. I think this sort of local control would be likely to help reform efforts overall, since residents in deeply prohibitionist counties and cities might be less concerned about statewide legalization if they can prevent "pot shops" from operating where they live. (My position is much different when it comes medical marijuana, where I've found that the sickest patients with the greatest need are the ones who suffer most when they don't have access to local dispensaries.)
When local control goes beyond land use and retail stores, however, then Rob's concern about the complexity of a dis-uniform regime becomes much more persuasive to me. It is one thing for a city or country to be able to ban retail marijuana sales (or regulate hours of operation, zoning, outdoor signage, etc.) It's quite another if cities can regulate, for example, the THC content in products that are sold. Or, even more problematic, if a locality had the power to ban transportation of marijuana or to re-criminalize personal possession by adults. For a state-wide regulatory scheme to function well, a marijuana manufacturer in one part of Washington needs to be be able to transport marijuana across the state without being subjected to a patchwork system of transportation regulations and outright transportation bans.
In California, an appeals court recently held that localities can ban all medical marijuana cultivation--even a single plant. The ruling, if adopted by other appeals courts (or the California Supreme Court), could leave patients in many parts of the state without any legal way to access marijuana. I think that is a serious problem and at-odds with the intent of California's Proposition 215.
All this is to say, when it comes to localism, I think the devil is in the details. On some points, like banning the retail sale of recreational marijuana, the benefits of local control may justify the costs. But on other items, like THC content or product labeling, I think state-wide uniformity is critical.