Portola Invites Lawsuit

Portola Proves Social Change is Hard 012311
News, analysis and opinion

Our fact source for this story is this piece in the Portola Reporter by Diana Jorgenson; please read the original article, only some of which appears on line HERE.

Decent people hate marijuana and the lazy bastards who use it, we all know that.  We all know that because since the 1960s marijuana has been a “boundary issue” between political dogmas.  The government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to change our brains on cannabis; it hasn’t been completely wasted.

That’s why it’s no surprise that Portola didn’t know the future when it came knocking.

The Portola City Council has decided to try to prevent a medical marijuana dispensary from opening in the city limits.  By a margin of 4 to 1 they’ve instructed staff to draw up an ordinance preventing medical cannabis dispensaries.  

The Prospect wasn’t able to attend the meeting, and so relying on reporting from the PR we understand that the council heard testimony primarily from law enforcement and local politicos.  According to the story, about 30 local people appeared, with some speaking against not only a dispensary, but all medical marijuana.

That’s the news.  Here’s the analysis.

Portola, a town that’s watched its prosperity slowly spiral as the railroads have withdrawn and logging has declined, is attempting to ban distribution of medical cannabis in the city.  The town currently has a population of about 2,000.  It serves traffic on State Route 70, and serves the local rural population.  In 2009 the median household income was $20,000 less than the state average.

The medical dispensary would likely have produced taxes similar to the local drug store, but perhaps more if Nevada medical marijuana patients also used the dispensary.

The Council based its decision on the testimony of law enforcement.  As we consider the emotional, counterfactual testimony provided it becomes clear that the speakers are simply exhibiting their culture.  Marijuana, and those who use it, are “counter culture”.  They represent the “strange and foreign” in our midst.  Their values are expected to be deviant, and their presence in the community is frightening.

People can’t help saying what they mean, even when they try to say something different.  Here is a powerful quotation from Plumas County Sheriff Gary Hagwood which demonstrates what he wants to say:
“It will invite and place you on the radar for not just local law enforcement’s attention, but state and federal law enforcement’s attention as well.”
Here Mr. Hagwood is threatening the little community with police action, as, for example, an old style Chinese Communist Party representative would have warned a local council “you’ll draw attention.”  Mr. Hagwood doesn’t see law enforcement’s role as objective, he sees it as a force for social control.  He is against marijuana, as all decent people are, he imagines, and so he’ll use the power of his office to enforce social behavior.  
This is different from merely enforcing the law.

It is clear that many of the speakers feel they were protecting the community from a great danger.  The language they used was powerful and emotional.  Mr. Hagwood, quoted in the Portola Reporter article:  
“Should a dispensary find its way into this city or anywhere in this county, I will bring to bear the full weight of every resource I can find to combat it… I was absolutely opposed to it before, I’m opposed to it today and I’ll be opposed to it tomorrow.  I will never like it, support it, or endorse it.  Ever.”  
Mr. Hagwood is testifying that his allegiance against commercial marijuana distribution is strong, and that he is dedicated to it regardless what facts might appear.

Also counterfactual was the testimony by Highway Patrol Commander Bruce Carpenter:
“I have 29 years of experience and I can tell you — marijuana does kill when you factor in the vehicle issue. I know of specifics where someone under the influence of marijuana — whether legal or not — has killed people. So it does kill and we can’t forget that side of things. We do have an issue of people driving under the influence whether they have a card or not; killing innocent people, not just themselves.”

The facts are these:
1. Alcohol, which is available in at least three family grocery stores and a couple of bars in Portola is the drug most associated with crime, and is highly associated with traffic accidents.  The Center for Disease Control states that every year there are 105,000 alcohol related deaths.  
2. There are no or few cannabis related deaths, and a study of almost 8000 automobile collisions found that persons using cannabis are not more likely than other drivers to cause a collision, whereas alcohol is strongly correlated with automobile fatalities.
3. Eating or drinking something while driving is responsible for as many as 80% of automobile accidents, according to the National Traffic Safety Administration.

If Mr. Carpenter were regarding facts and not emotion, he would send his cruisers to monitor grocery stores for alcohol and fast food establishments for people leaving with take out.  However, his analysis is not founded on fact, but on his loyalty to those against cannabis.

There is strong evidence that, over-all, medical marijuana and its distribution through regulated outlets has reduced crime.  Crime is associated with money, and the market value of marijuana has dropped by half since Prop 215.  Dispensaries generally try to be socially responsible, follow normal business practices, and prevent sales directly to minors (but some allow parents to purchase a minor’s prescription).  

As with most products in demand, most people will use regulated and legal outlets when possible.  If crime is a concern, prohibition is not the most effective means of control.

Most law enforcement officials talked about crime associated with cannabis use and specifically a dispensary.   However, having a CD player in your car is associated with crime.  Successful businesses invite crime.  Being old invites crime.  In short, “crime” is not a thing but a series of behaviors and responses; it is present wherever humans are.  

District Attorney David Hollister by letter and Sheriff Hagwood in testimony brought up a legal point: the Compassionate Use Act designates only the patient or a “primary care giver” to grow cannabis.  The dispensary wouldn’t be a caregiver under the law.

However, this issue has been addressed in several states and, in general, state courts find that access can’t be restricted to those who have or know someone who has the ability to grow medical quality marijuana.  Most people have a difficult time growing enough tomatoes for themselves; medical quality marijuana takes time and expertise.

Hollister, according to the PR piece, and through the Mayor, stated he would instruct the Sheriff to raid the dispensary if it opened.  

Mr. Hagwood estimated that there are already 500 medical marijuana users in Plumas County; the number is likely higher, since most medical users aren’t known.  One possibility from this ordinance might be a class action suit for preventing those who can’t grow their own from locally obtaining a legal medication.  

However, the testimony also contained evidence of a change in attitudes among even the most strident antagonists.  Hagwood demonstrated thoughtfulness and compassion when he said: “The last thing I would ever do is deny someone relief.”  He stated that should he become ill and need medical cannabis he wouldn’t want anyone telling him not to use it.

A final note to the Portola Reporter article stated that the original applicants for the dispensary have abandoned their plan and wanted to remain anonymous in this article and were concerned about “keeping their day jobs.”

Opinion: is this really news?  “Backwater town dead set against evil weed.”   Portola, a little has-been town like Loyalton, could have used the revenue; it would mean that even more county residents would “come in from the cold” and start using more legitimate sources for cannabis.  There is a steady march toward legalization which might not be around the corner, but is closer than two corners.

Personally, I preferred it when it was illegal, and you could tell who your friends were by their smell.  Today there’s all this boutique attitude to it.  It was nicer when everyone had to scramble if someone knocked on the door than it is now, where young entrepreneurs who aren’t even hippies are making money.  But, times change, what are you going to do?

Councilperson Juliana Mark asked about 100 people and only 2 wanted the dispensary, which demonstrates how the people she knows feel about it, the “decent” people, but probably some of them were lying, and she didn’t ask all 2000 people who were impacted by her decision.

There were even people there worried about the children, people who have alcohol and percocet in their homes.

Very likely within Hagwood’s lifetime there will be legal medical cannabis sold in Portola, and the world won’t end, and children will be safe, and crime will actually be reduced.

The good news is that this will allow Sierra County to take Portola’s medical cannabis bucks.  Our reading of the code indicates you don’t need county permission to open a dispensary in Sierra County.  Email inquires to the planning department were not answered, and were probably deleted and the computers that received them burned.  

So, look forward to a medical cannabis dispensary coming soon!  With luck, it will reduce the number of patient and caretaker grows, which are home grows with no efficient security, improve access to people who can use it for relief, and bring in about as much revenue in taxes and jobs as the Feed Store in Sierraville.  

Much respect to the patriots who wanted to exercise their legal rights in the dying cowtown of Portola.

(Apologies to Diana Jorgenson for initially misspelling her name.  Corrected 012611)
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