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Friday, Dec 13, 2013 - Last Blog on Earth | News

Dealer or grower?

The practicality and politics of buying and sell pot

By Joshua Emerson Smith

There have been two main responses to my recent article about Child Welfare Services taking the children of medical cannabis patients. One is a visceral gut wrenching at the plight of the family profiled in the story. The other is shock at the amount of cannabis found during the raid that led to the child’s removal—10 pounds!

One commenter on the CityBeat website wrote, “Ten pounds of marijuana = dealer.” He wasn’t alone in his estimation of the facts. Over recent days, I’ve had more than one conversation about the implications of the amount of medical cannabis in question.

As someone who’s reported on the industry for several years all over the state—and make no mistake, it’s an industry—I'm always surprised by how quick people are to condemn anyone involved in an exchange of money for medical cannabis.

It’s not unlikely the 10 pounds of cannabis confiscated, with a street value of roughly $30,000 and found bagged by the pound, was intended for distribution.

However, the importance of this for readers—when considering whether Child Welfare Services was right to have removed the child from the home—is something I may have underestimated.

In many parts of the state, the idea that someone can legitimately grow medical cannabis and sell it to a dispensary is taken for granted. (What’s frowned upon is distribution outside of this supply chain.)

In San Diego, District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has taken a different stance, maintaining that any exchange of money for medical cannabis will be treated as illegal. If this is inaccurate, I wholeheartedly encourage her to clarify her position.

What does this mean for San Diegans?

Imagine you woke up tomorrow to find out that it's illegal to buy or sell coffee. However, local law enforcement would allow you to grow and process your own beans, as long as you didn’t grow so much as to raise suspicion that you might be selling dark roast to your neighbors. People with fulltime jobs, grandmothers with limited manual dexterity, anyone without a green thumb would be out of luck.

If the DA had her way, it would be the same with medical cannabis in San Diego. Of course, that’s not how it works in reality. Not everyone can or wants to grow and process it. So other people do it. Then within the parameters of a collective—whether it’s a bunch of patients pitching in for supplies or the local dispensary taking money to pay for overhead and employee salaries—an individual can buy a few grams.

Our whole economy is based on specialization, the idea that we all do what we do best to maximize efficiency. Many counties around the state allow this financial arrangement to function with respect to medical cannabis very smoothly.

However, such an arrangement—whether you agree with it—means that at some point along the supply chain, people who may have children are going to have several pounds of cannabis in their possession.

Whether this means these people are unfit parents is not my place to say, but under the current state of the medical cannabis supply chain in California, it’s a reality.