The District Attorney's Marijuana Drama (Updated) - Voice of San Diego

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The District Attorney's Marijuana Drama (Updated)

Mayoral candidate Bonnie Dumanis tries to clarify her position
on medical marijuana. The former head of the city’s medical pot
task force says her actions as D.A. don’t match her words.

Bonnie Dumanis has a medical marijuana conundrum. As district attorney, Dumanis has aggressively pursued marijuana cases, wading into the legal thicket that comes from conflicting federal and state laws and an absence of city regulations. It’s earned her a tough-on-pot reputation.

But as a mayoral candidate, Dumanis faces a different calculus. The centrist voters she’ll need to attract might be more open to concerns about medical marijuana access. This week she released a statement “clarifying” her position on medical pot. She says claims of her opposing it are wrong:

A lot of important issues are being discussed as part of the race for San Diego Mayor, but I am often asked about my position on one issue in particular — medical marijuana. Just as often, I see a look of surprise and skepticism when I tell people that I absolutely support the legitimate, legal use of marijuana for medicinal purposes.

I have known friends suffering from debilitating, and sometimes fatal, diseases whose only relief from nausea or lack of appetite was marijuana. The law provides for the compassionate, medicinal use of marijuana and I support it. Let me say that again: I support the legitimate, lawful use of medical marijuana.

Dumanis adds that she does oppose those who take advantage of the state’s medicinal marijuana laws to sell pot to people who don’t need it. It’s her job, she said, to prosecute them.

Close watchers of the medical marijuana issue in San Diego should find nothing new in Dumanis’ comments. She said the same thing at a press conference two years ago following a citywide raid of marijuana dispensaries:

Like most San Diegans, I have always supported the legitimate and legal use of medical marijuana. But let me also be clear. Our investigation to date shows these so-called businesses are not legal. They appear to be run by drug dealers who see an opening in the market and a way to make a fast buck.

The problem with Dumanis’ stance is that her actions don’t support her position, said Alex Kreit, the former head of a city task force on medical marijuana. Kreit, an assistant professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, said he asked Dumanis for help while the task force was working and Dumanis didn’t respond. Kreit posted a critique of Dumanis on the liberal blog Two Cathedrals.

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Kreit argues two things show Dumanis’ opposition to medical marijuana. She’s been aggressive in marijuana prosecutions despite losing court cases and she hasn’t made any effort to resolve the complications that make it difficult for medical marijuana dispensaries to operate legally:

Bonnie Dumanis’s statement “clarifying [her] position on medical marijuana” is fundamentally inconsistent with the actions she has taken as District Attorney. As District Attorney, Dumanis has stood in the way of safe access to medical marijuana for patients at every turn by declining to work with the City’s task force, refusing to issue prosecutorial guidelines, and working to shut down all medical marijuana collectives in San Diego…

If her statement turns out to represent a change of heart on this issue, I would be the first to applaud her. Without action, however, it is difficult to see Dumanis’s statement as anything other than an election-year attempt to run from her record in order to address concerns from moderate Democratic and Independent voters who support medical marijuana.

I’ve asked Dumanis’ campaign for its reaction to Kreit’s post and will update if I get a response.

Update, 3:30 p.m.: I just heard from Dumanis’ spokesman Kevin Klein. In an email, he referred to her previous statement, which emphasizes that the district attorney and mayor have different roles. As mayor, Dumanis would work with City Council to develop medical marijuana regulations.

On the issue of her own prosecutorial guidelines, Klein wrote: “Bonnie has long said that the law is poorly written and needs clarification through additional state legislation and court opinions.”

For the latest on what we’ve dubbed San Diego’s “medical marijuana melodrama” check out our San Diego Explained segment with NBC7 San Diego:

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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