With Florida poised to approved medical marijuana, California has lessons to teach

Some marijuana 'patients' seeking only to get high

SAN FRANCISCO, Fla. - Yvonne Westbrook has been smoking marijuana most of her life. But only after multiple sclerosis put the 61-year-old in a wheelchair did she discover that it helped quiet her leg spasms, allowing her to sleep.

"At my age, I'm well past that 'I want to get bombed' feeling. I just want relief for my pain and my other issues and it provides it for me," said Westbrook.

Westbrook is one of an estimated half million Californians who smoke or eat marijuana legally under the state's medical cannabis law.

Most others, like 26-year-old Roger Gallagher, take their doctor's note to one of the hundreds of dispensaries across the state. Food vendors are never far from the front door and business is brisk.
Gallagher got his doctor's "recommendation" for insomnia and trouble focusing as soon as he turned 18. But he suggests it's not strictly for medical use.

"I've had it for seven years now. And it just makes it so that I don't have any problems with the police or anything like that," said Gallagher.

After 18 years of partial legalization, marijuana is widely accepted, but not by everyone.

"Eighteen years ago, law enforcement was clearly against the medical marijuana initiative," said Chief David Swing of the Morgan Hill Police Department near San Jose.

Not wanting to appear to endorse pot use, sheriffs and police chiefs like Sing stayed out of the regulatory debate.  Only now are they and lawmakers on track to regulate the chaotic explosion of dispensaries and lax oversight of doctors, patients and growers.

Marijuana Attorney Scot Candell represents those arrested for getting tripped up in the changing legal landscape.

"They're brought to court. They have to bail out. They have to hire lawyers and eventually prove they're complying with state law and the case gets dismissed," Candell said.
Dispensaries like Harborside Health Center in Oakland, which looks a little like an Apple Store, are trying to stay on the right side of the law by paying over a million dollars in taxes to the City of Oakland and maintaining tight security.

Still, Harborside, with it's state of the art testing and quality control, is being targeted by the federal government, which still considers marijuana illegal for any purpose.

But generally  people like Yvonne and Roger are left alone in a community known for leaving people alone.  

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