May 9, 2013 7:38 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Operating on the Gray Line: Local leaders weigh in

Patients and dispensary owners aren't the only ones who want medical marijuana laws clarified.
Local law enforcement officials do, too.

"It's become more clear that that the law is more confusing than ever," said San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson.

When it comes to marijuana laws, local leaders say there is a lot of room for interpretation, especially when it comes to providers of the drug.

"What's the difference between a mobile dispensary, or store front dispensary selling to someone, and somebody selling who's out to profit and is illegal, " said Parkinson.

A million dollar question for a billion dollar industry.

Words like collectives, cooperatives and caregiver are still being interpreted in different ways.

"Because Prop 215 is not clear, because there have been some conflicting court case decisions, it makes it very difficult for the DA's office to win a case," said Parkinson.

San Luis Obispo District Attorney Gerald Shea couldn't agree more.

"In 2003, the Medical Marijuana Program Act was passed, and allowed qualified patients to associate collectively to cultivate and distribute marijuana, so you have that on one hand. On the other hand, you have the federal law from 1970 which says that if you do all those things it's actually a federal crime," said Shea.

He says while guidelines for dispensaries were written by the state's attorney general in 2009, when the original law landed on the books in 1996, dispensaries were not included.

"And then it became an issue of whether or not the counties and the cities could use their land use laws or zoning laws in order to ban marijuana dispensaries, whether or not they have that power," said Shea.

On Monday, in a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court decided counties do have the power to ban dispensaries.

In a statement from the court they said that current laws do not grant a right of convenient access to medical marijuana or override zoning, licensing and police powers of local jurisdictions.

San Luis Obispo County currently allows dispensaries but only if they can meet strict guidelines.

"I know of no plans to really look again and change it to put a ban in place of any kind," said County Supervisor Adam Hill. "We think that we have the necessary regulations to deal with it one way or another. We haven't approved one. It is a high bar, but there's also a sense of evolving understanding and a sort of evolution of public opinion too"

Many have already begun to protest the court's decision.
Marijuana advocates insist limited access only forces people to purchase black market drugs, putting millions of dollars into the pockets of violent drug cartels.

About 200 local governments in California prohibit storefront operations, and Monday's decision is expected to lead to even more bans.

So while many may be taking advantage of the law, proving it is the biggest obstacle. The latest decision does provide some clarity; however, questions regarding dispensaries that are operating in counties that allow them still remain.

"Collectives for example are allowed to distribute marijuana but it's very unclear in the law as to what a collective is, what a structure of a collective is, and so we'd like some clarity on that," said Shea. "And whether or not a patient can become a member of the collective simply by signing something or do they have to have an ownership part of it."

"So if you can't win a case, and it's costing the taxpayers thousands and thousands of dollars to prosecute, then where are we? Why do we start the case if we can't finish it?" asked Parkinson.

Clearly this issue is far from over, and law officials fully expect it to end up in the hands of nine justices at the US Supreme Court.

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