60 Minutes: California's medical marijuana system in 'chaos'
California's Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana in that state 11 years ago as a treatment for pain, the side-effects of chemotherapy, and other ailments. However, the federal government still views all marijuana use as illegal, and the Supreme Court has upheld the federal Drug Enforcement Agency's right to go after dispensaries, no matter what state laws allow.
In September, the DEA raided the California Healthcare Collective in Modesto and arrested the store's chief financial officer, Luke Scarmazzo. "They handcuffed me and put me on my kitchen table," Scarmazzo told 60 Minutes. "One of them ... said 'you knew I'd be coming soon.'"
Scarmazzo acknowledged that he had been earning $13,000 a month for running the dispensary but insisted "I was working a lot of hours." Scarmazzo's lawyer described his client's situation as a case of "selective prosecution," because the 26-year-old Scarmazzo is also a hiphop artist, with a widely distributed Internet video in which he appears as a high-living drug dealer, chanting "Fuck the feds."
Complicating the legal situation, California's pot shops have admittedly become an easy source of supply for people who just want to get high. According to 60 Minutes, the California law was originally intended to provide access only to the most needy, but in an attempt not to exclude any category of illness, it wound up with language so broad that it covers ever the vaguest complaint of pain. Now anyone with a note from their doctor can buy medical marijuana, and some doctors even advertise for patients in alternative papers.
One longtime supporter of medical marijuana, Methodist minister Scott Imler, says, "It's just ridiculous ...The purpose of Proposition 215 was not to create a new industry." Although the centers are supposedly collectives which buy marijuana grown by members and redistribute it, it is clear that large amounts of marijuana are also entering the system from the black market, putting money into the pockets of organized crime and terrorists.
Marijuana activist Don Duncan told 60 Minutes that "there's bound to be abuse in the system" and what is needed is better regulation. However, Scott Imler argues that effective regulation is not possible as long as the federal government refused to accept the legality of medical marijuana. Until then, "We're going to have what we have now, which is chaos."
The following video is from CBS's 60 Minutes, broadcast on December 30, 2007