Opinion: Sacramento’s marijuana problem
Old habits die hard. In 1996, a majority of California voters approved Proposition 215, which legalized the medicinal use of marijuana. Culturally, the state turned a corner. Among other things, citizens could now turn to a health-care alternative they could grow on their own property. Medical-marijuana users were no longer to be treated as criminals. But 14 years later, some people still don’t get it.
Take the Sacramento City Council, for example.
On Oct. 16, the council voted 8-1 to draft an ordinance outlawing outdoor marijuana gardens within city limits. According to the council, the ordinance is necessary because outdoor marijuana gardens have become magnets for crime. Plus, the pungent smell of an outdoor crop in full bloom disturbs some of the citizenry.
The problem is, these rationalizations for bypassing state law depend on a mindset that considers medical-marijuana users second-class citizens, if not criminals.
Consider the claim that outdoor marijuana gardens are magnets for crime. There is no doubt that certain criminal elements target gardens that appear vulnerable. Occasionally, gunplay and death result when citizens defend their crops, which can be worth up to $2,000 per plant. Is the council contending you can’t have anything of value on your property? What about the cash you keep in your safe? The Lexus you park in the street? Your bicycle?
Moreover, it isn’t the responsibility of growers to fight this crime. That’s the Sacramento Police Department’s job, one for which they are compensated well by taxpayers, including medical-marijuana users. Aren’t medical-marijuana users entitled to equal protection under the law? Or are they second-class citizens?
The City Council appears to be unaware that lower-income medical-marijuana users depend on their outdoor gardens to provide enough medicine to last an entire year. An outdoor garden of six plants can be raised for as little as $300 per year, not counting the labor the grower put into the garden.
No problem, says the council, they can just move their crop indoors. But the electric bill alone for an equivalent indoor garden can be as high as $300 per month. And that’s only if you or your landlord are willing to put up with the inevitable damage a hydroponic garden is going to do to the house. Most landlords aren’t, which means most low-income medical-marijuana users are out of luck.
Then they’ll be forced to go to their friendly local medical-marijuana collective, where the prices for medicinal-grade marijuana are considerably higher than the cost of growing your own, outdoors or indoors. If they’re fortunate, the collective will have a decent compassionate-care program that offers discounts on low-grade medicine for low-income patients.
If not, then they’ll just have to take the pain. Or the nausea. Or the anxiety.
So, what about the smell? It’s true that marijuana has a very distinct odor, especially during the outdoor harvest season, which is happening right now. But is it truly repugnant? Should we also ban driving on bad air days? Criminalize oleander? Exterminate all the skunks? (They don’t call it skunk bud for nothing.)
There’s no doubt that for some people, the odor evokes memories of an age where movies such as "Reefer Madness" were taken seriously and life sentences for hopheads were the norm. It’s an era they wished had never passed.
But it has passed. Medical marijuana is the new normal. Get used to it. Lots of things in life stink.