Why? - Page 5

San Francisco did everything right. Now the feds are shutting down legal marijuana in town. And nobody can figure out what happened

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Medical marijuana supporters marched on the Federal Building on Aug. 1 to protest the recent crackdown.
PHOTO BY TIM DAW

After an intensely collaborative process that lasted more than a year, the city in 2005 adopted a process for licensing dispensaries that balanced the needs of this nascent industry with concerns by police, patients, disability rights activists, neighborhood groups, and health officials. Mirkarimi said that maybe it's time for city officials to consider an idea he floated a few years ago of having the city itself directly distribute medical marijuana through General Hospital.

"I still think that's a good idea, particularly if the feds are going to force medical marijuana dispensaries back into the dark ages." For all his praise of the city's dispensaries, Dr. Bhatia will admit that the industry still needed better oversight -– dealing with issues such as standards for growing and transporting cannabis, fiscal transparency, and potency and dosage standards –- but the federal crackdown has scuttled his efforts to expand the city's regulatory system.

"This DEA action stops us from making progress on the regulation of clubs that we need to make," Bhatia said. "There are lots of issues, but we had just finished getting the clubs into their housing." Now the industry is being driven back underground.

Ironically, Haag and other federal officials have accused dispensary operators of profiteering, which they'll certainly be more free to do now that local officials have lost their leverage to begin regulating the finances of the supposedly nonprofit patient collectives that officially operate each dispensary.

"That was one of the areas that we never developed the tools or capacity to look at," said Bhatia, who proposed more transparent record-keeping by dispensaries last year, only to have the operators express concern about how the feds might use that information, which turned out to be an understandable fear.

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