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Drugs

Marijuana Sold for Profit at California Dispensaries? Guy Who Wrote the Law on This, John Vasconcellos, Says It's Legit

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Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 1:55 PM

click to enlarge TROY HOLDEN
  • Troy Holden
One of the rallying cries of those opposed to the proliferation of pot shops in places like Los Angeles is that medical marijuana was never meant to be for-profit in the state of California.

Yet, in L.A., the weed game has clearly become about money and entrepreneurship, so much so that the likes of District Attorney Steve Cooley and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich have repeatedly noted this fact in their sometimes futile crusades against the medical cannabis trade.

Now, one of the authors of a landmark medical marijuana law in California says it was never meant to prohibit profit-taking by pot shops:

Former state Sen. John Vasconcellos this week wrote a letter (linked here via PDF) "to whom it may concern" in order to clarify lawmakers' intentions regarding the law he co-authored in 2003, SB 420, which defined the avenues for marijuana distribution and cultivation under 1996's voter-approved Prop. 215.

420 says that nothing in the bill shall "authorize any individual or group to cultivate or distribute marijuana for profit."

But now Vasconcellos, who's retired and runs a nonprofit called the Vasconcellos Trust, says the language wasn't intended to specifically bar profit-taking.

In noting that the intentions of the landmark legalization of medical marijuana were carefully vetted by officials and politicians on both sides of the aisle when 420 was drafted, he writes:

click to enlarge 1NCOGNITO
  • 1ncognito

I am deeply concerned that in the nine years since we passed SB 420, certain people have evidently been advocating a marked misinterpretation of the language resulting from our Task Force and enacted into law via my SB 420 -- with regard to whether "making a profit" is somehow not permitted for medical cannabis providers under state law.

It was certainly true that one side wanted to outlaw any profit-making, while the other side did not and would not ... we took the openly deliberated, fully appreciated compromise way out: We catered to neither side on this issue. Instead the Task Force crafted the language that appears in Health and Safety Code section 1 1362.765(a) as follows: "... nor shall anything in this section authorize any individual or group to cultivate or distribute marijuana for profit."

... The language we fashioned means nothing more -- nor less -- than what it explicitly says. Nothing in that section prohibits profit. Nothing in that section explicitly authorizes profit, either. But I must point out that nobody is required to obtain an "authorization" from the Legislature to make a profit in California.

... the language does not in any respect purport to prohibit profit ~ if that had been the intent, the language would have so stated clearly. It obviously does no such thing.

I should also point out that Section 11362.765 concerns activities by individual patients, caregivers, and others who provide assistance to patients. Activities by collectives and cooperatives are governed by their own section (H&S Section 11362.775), and it is, of course, completely silent on the issue of profit.

Interesting.

The language noting that nothing in the bill shall "authorize any individual or group to cultivate or distribute marijuana for profit" certainly sounds definitive enough to us.

But the fact that "collectives and cooperatives" (is that what they are?) are not even covered by this is noteworthy.

The issue could be moot on a couple fronts, however: The city of L.A., like others, is moving forward on a complete ban on pot shops after a state court said municipalities can't regulate them via permits and lotteries, as they're outlawed federally anyway, essentially.

And now there's another state initiative in the works that would tax and regulate pot shops and, de facto, it seems, allow for-profit sales. That'll apparently override everything if you, the voter, approve it. (Though cities like L.A. could still ban shops altogether.)

We called Vasconcellos for comment but we were told he was traveling to Hawaii.

[@dennisjromero / djromero@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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