H-CENTRAL COAST

May 7, 2013 6:39 PM by Cameron Polom, KSBY News

Operating on the Gray Line: Medical Marijuana Debate

The debate over medical marijuana laws is complex and often contentious. Hundreds of medical cannabis dispensaries, collectives, and delivery services currently do business in California. Although many operate in accordance with state and local laws, selling medical cannabis remains strictly illegal under federal law, and that's led to many raids by federal authorities.

Steven Gordon isn't a doctor.

"I see some of the most challenged mentally and physically people in this county, and I feel I'm providing a service, and I think the people do too," said Gordon. "I carry edibles. I carry dried flowers. These are half-ounce packages. They start at $110."

His specialty is delivering medical marijuana, made legal by the people of California in 1996 by Prop 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act. That initiative gave patients the right to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical use.

"I treat patients for depression, to anxiety, they're bi-polar, cancer patients, AIDS patients, stroke patients," said Gordon.

But even with the law, getting the medicine continues to be an obstacle.

Robert, a medical marijuana user for five years, began using the drug after breaking his back in a car accident. He also suffers from other mental disorders. He says he chose to use medical marijuana when traditional medication wasn't helping.

"I was taking all kinds of other drugs for pain and stuff like that, but it didn't really help me. It didn't do much for me other than make me drowsy or sick to my stomach or puke or something," said Robert.

He says if he didn't have legal, accessible marijuana, he'd be forced to buy it off the street.

"I'd rather get it from the delivery person like Steven than having to get it on my own because it would be unsafe," said Robert.

But the debate isn't safety; it isn't health, or accessibility.

Federal law says marijuana is an illegal drug; however, many states have made it legal for medical uses.

"We had set up a non-profit in order to do business," said Gordon.

With the help of an attorney, Gordon began a mobile dispensary business in San Luis Obispo County, but the blooming business didn't last long. Gordon found himself behind bars facing charges that included drug trafficking and distribution.

"December 28th, 2010 at daybreak the Sheriff's department came to visit. They pounded on the house, shook the house pretty good and yelled 'Sheriff's department, search warrant!'" said Gordon.

At the end of the day, a narcotics unit had raided his home and six others.

In all, 12 people were arrested that day, dubbed "The Doobie Dozen."

This local case would take years to play out in the courts, but the immediate outcome would reflect a much bigger conflict between state, local, and federal law.

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