How Do Dispensaries Ensure Only Patients Get the Pot?

Although two states this year said “I do” to legalized recreational marijuana use, California was not one of them. medicaldoctor.jpg

As such, our Los Angeles marijuana lawyers know that it’s critical for operators of dispensaries and collectives to ensure that only patients with a legitimate, doctor-prescribed medical necessity receive the product and that distribution is carried out strictly according to the guidelines set forth in both state and local regulations.

Of course, it won’t insulate you from federal action, as evidenced by the letters sent by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to more than 70 dispensaries in Los Angeles last month, threatening to make arrests or seize property if they didn’t shut down. All told, authorities have shut down approximately 600 medical marijuana facilities throughout the state since the crackdown began last year.

Federal authorities say that the dispensaries they target violate not only the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, but also state law, which requires that operators be non-profit, primary caregivers to their patents and only distribute marijuana for strict medicinal purposes.

But we know this is not always the criteria used. For example, the Harborside dispensary in Oakland was reportedly targeted because, authorities reasoned, it was “too big.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar has been quoted as saying that the state’s marijuana laws are some of the weakest in the country, probably by virtue of the fact that we were the first to approve medical marijuana, so there was no tried and true model to follow. But unless and until the drug is legalized for recreational purposes, dispensaries would do well to ensure their customers are legitimate patients.

This will allow operators to avoid further undue attention from authorities, at least while other cases are battled out in court.

As of right now, the best way to do that is to ensure your clients have a legitimate, state-issued medical marijuana identification card and are listed as a qualified patient and/or caregiver according to the Medical Marijuana Program’s statewide registry.

Senate Bill 420, which was passed in 2003, gives the authority to oversee the Medical Marijuana Program to the county governments. As of right now in the state, there have been nearly 65,000 identification cards issued. Of those, approximately 58,000 are patients, while another 6,000 are caregivers. Generally, these must be renewed annually.

What can be tricky for many dispensaries are ensuring that prescriptions are recommended or approved by physicians who are actually allowed to do so under state law. This applies to medical doctors, osteopaths and surgeons. It does not apply to chiropractors, herbal therapists and the like.

General state guidelines, handed down by the state attorney general’s office, are that the state won’t recognize storefront “dispensaries,” but that cooperatives and collectives can legally dispense medical marijuana in a storefront location, assuming it complies with a number of conditions.

As you probably recognize, opening or maintaining a medical marijuana dispensary or collective is a risky venture, but it can be extremely rewarding as well. The legal landscape of medical marijuana is ever-changing in California, so if have questions or concerns about whether you are following the letter of the law, call us today for more information.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
Marijuana Only for the Sick? A Farce, Some Angelenos Say, Oct. 7, 2012, By Norimitsu Onishi, Los Angeles Times
More Blog Entries:
Federal Raid of 9 L.A., Orange, Marijuana Stores Results in 12 Arrests, Nov. 6, 2012, Los Angles Marijuana Lawyer Blog