As the curtain lowers on quasi-legal dispensary operations in Fresno County, medical cannabis patients may be forgiven for feeling angry, sad and bitter. There are hurt feelings and a renewed distrust of the same government we expect to protect our rights. “Only in Fresno…” some may mutter, but that’s not the case. The dispensary melodrama is playing out in hundreds of cities and dozens of counties statewide, with the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices taking the lead role and a supporting cast of thousands of local-yokel cops and politicians. Dispensary raids continue in Colorado, Montana, Washington state … and the list goes on.
Raise the lights. It’s not the end, it’s intermission. This play isn’t over. Not yet, and not by a long shot.
Put aside, if you can, every bias you have for (or against) dispensaries. They serve a need. They have a purpose. They do something that was unthinkable just a few years ago: Provide a safe, businesslike environment where qualified patients can obtain medical cannabis as authorized by California law. That’s an amazing accomplishment, and yet it tends to get lost in all the crying about local dispensary bans and federal raids.
It matters little whether you or I think dispensaries are pharmacies, cannabis flea marts or opium dens. Thankfully, it doesn’t matter much what the cops or local politicians think either. They’re entitled to their opinions, and for a time they may wield their authority in a manner quite disrespectful and damaging to medical cannabis patients. It sucks, but this is our burden. We’re all stoners in their eyes, and let’s be frank: Some “patients” are stonier than others. The backlash was predictable. The green rush couldn’t last forever.
So take a deep breath. Count to 10. Remember, as I do, what Fresno was like for non-medical potheads back in the day. If you lived through any of that time, your skill set is still good. Don’t talk to the cops if you don’t have to or assume that your patient status will keep you out of hot water. They want to play hardball, that’s fine, we know the rules as well or better than they do. Prohibition is alive and well. Protect yourself by acting accordingly. Put your 99-plant recommendation on the shelf or frame it if you like. Either way, it’s no bueno.
In other words, don’t push the envelope, but don’t throw in the towel or give up. A strategic retreat is not defeat. California’s courts are slowly catching up with the complex legal concepts behind dispensaries and collective cultivation, both of which are absolutely critical if individual cultivation rights are restricted. Cities and counties can’t take EVERYTHING away from us, even though they’re doing their very best to try. It’s going to be a tough year, but the pendulum is nearing the top of its swing. We’re going to find the middle ground. We’re going to finish what Proposition 215 started, and we’re going to do it right here in Fresno. Buckle up and hang on.