Why Marijuana Advocates Should Applaud L.A. Shutting Down Criminal Dispensaries

From the Atlantic Wire this morning, reporting on a vote yesterday by the LA City Council:

The crackdown on marijuana dispensaries in California reached a new level on Tuesday when the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. There's still hope, though. Not all of the pot stores are closing.

The pressure on pot stores in California really started to grow in October. Long thought to be the state where everyone smoked, mostly because that's what TV shows like Entourage told us, federal officials decided to flex their muscles against a "marijuana industry" in California they deemed out of control. Just last week, prosecutors filed court papers to shut down a huge dispensary in Oakland that called itself the biggest in the world. It was not a mom'n'pop pot shop.

On Tuesday, L.A.'s City Council voted to ban pot dispensaries within city limits. There are currently 762 medical marijuana dispensaries in L.A., and technically under the ban they should be each receiving a letter telling them to shut down immediately or face the wrath of the city's lawyers. But the council decided to order an ordinance be drawn up to keep 170 of the original marijuana dispensaries open, so not all hope is lost for Californians. Somewhere, Turtle is quietly weeping.

There are two kinds of dispensaries in Los Angeles. Anybody walking down Ventura Boulevard can see -- and smell -- the difference. Legitimate dispensaries have security guards and look like professional businesses (though the law requires them to be non-profits). Illegitimate dispensaries are expansions of head shops that sell bongs. They're for-profit businesses. You can smell the weed wafting out when walking by them on the street. These newer dispensaries get busted so much partly because they sometimes act as fronts for other criminal activities.

So good riddance. Voters did not support medicinal marijuana laws so shady characters could become millionaires.

There is a cultural war beginning over marijuana that will come out more in the coming years. And it's not the political fight over whether legalization happens, but how. Should the government regulate marijuana as though it's a recreational drug like alcohol and tobacco? Or should it recognize THC as a powerful, risky medicine worthy of regulation in the same style as opiates?

The great potential of marijuana is not in its natural, Cheech-and-Chong, smokeable form but as pills, edibles, and even topical creams designed to treat specific conditions. But to get there it requires A) a rejection of the Baby Boomers' definition of "weed" as something stupid "stoners" smoke to have fun and B) a recognition that properly-refined THC products administered with the guidance of a real physician have the potential to replace many of the poisonous, corporate drugs that kill Americans every day.