MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Here in California, the Obama administration's new hands-off policy on medical marijuana is getting mixed reviews. Some cities that have been trying to put a lid on new marijuana storefronts aren't happy.
As NPR's Richard Gonzales reports, the new policy comes at a time when parts of California are feeling overrun by medicinal pot.
RICHARD GONZALES: In a downtown Oakland coffee shop, there's a back room where medical marijuana patients can buy small amounts of cannabis specially grown for the discerning connoisseur.
Mr. RICHARD LEE: Just going to have you smell the menu. This is Blue Dream. How does that smell? Spicy? Sweet?
GONZALES: Richard Lee is the owner of this dispensary. He opens a small baggie with a different variety of high-grade marijuana.
Mr. LEE: Maybe try that against the Snow Cush(ph), see what you think of that.
GONZALES: So, it's kind of like red and white wines, they have different flavors and tastes?
Mr. LEE: Yeah. That's how we try to, you know, some people don't realize that it is a lot like the wine industry with little boutique flavors and tastes.
GONZALES: Lee is one of many dispensary operators who hope the administration's policy signals a shift in cultural attitudes towards marijuana.
Mr. LEE: That's what we're seeing happen now with all these cannabis outlets being opened, because you got to remember, they don't act - operate in a vacuum. That means there's landlords willing to lease them space. There's lots of employees willing to work there. So, the culture has already embraced this. It's just a matter of time till the politicians catch up.
GONZALES: Not so fast, say a lot of law enforcement officials and elected leaders around California.
Mr. STEVE COOLEY (Los Angeles District Attorney): We're going to eradicate the illegal sales of marijuana that are occurring in dispensaries.
GONZALES: Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley recently announced a crackdown on the estimated 800 medical marijuana dispensaries that have mushroomed in his county in the past year.
Mr. COOLEY: The vast, vast, vast majority, about 100 percent of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and city are operating illegally.
GONZALES: Cooley says the dispensaries are in violation because they are operating as moneymaking businesses and not as nonprofit collectives. L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine agrees and insists that this isn't a battle against medical marijuana.
Mr. DENNIS ZINE (Los Angeles City Councilman): We all support it. It's been abused and it's simply a mask for recreational use of marijuana with the doctors who write prescriptions at will for different dollar value, whether it's $65 or $100 or $200. It's been abused and that's the problem. People are abusing it, and they're simply using it to get high.
GONZALES: Zine says the expansion of medical cannabis dispensaries in L.A. has led to a rash of robberies, at least 200 over the past two years. In many neighborhoods, residents regard the pot stores as a nuisance, says John Lovell, a lobbyist for California police groups.
Mr. JOHN LOVELL (Lobbyist): If this law had been genuinely restricted to the terminally ill for pain management, you wouldn't see this pushback now. But the law was written not by people who care about pain management for sick people, but by people who were trying to use the law as a subterfuge for de facto legalization.
GONZALES: But Los Angeles has found it difficult to stop the growth of medical marijuana storefronts. Yesterday, a measure banning any new ones was overturned in court. So, the city is back to the drawing board trying to write a new rule that will pass muster.
Richard Gonzales, NPR News.
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