The Press-Enterprise wrote:Wider acceptance of medical marijuana has anti-drug groups worried
03:51 PM PST on Sunday, March 1, 2009
By JEFF HORSEMANThe Press-Enterprise
It looks like any other doctor's office, with white walls, a receptionist's window and soothing background music.
But then there's the marijuana cookbook in the corner case, and the "Medical Marijuana Survival Guide" handed out to patients.
The Temecula branch of Alternative Care Clinics opened four months ago, part of a growing network of Inland businesses connecting patients with medical marijuana.
"We used to get a lot more questions," said Jonathan Arbel, ACC's director of operations. "Now it's just more recognized as a legitimate treatment."
"It seems like it's a lot less of a negative thing now," said Tom Wiggins Jr., administrator for Inland Empire Cannabis Consultants of Temecula.
The trend worries a local anti-drug organization.
"Yes, we remain concerned that a pro-drug movement is afoot in the Inland Empire," Roger Anderson, parent coalition chairman of the Inland Valley Drug Free Coalition, wrote in an e-mail.
"The pot users don't really want a 'medicine.' They just want to get high," Anderson wrote.
Medical marijuana is taking root amid new court rulings and policy changes.
Last year, a state appeals court upheld a law setting marijuana guidelines. On Feb. 18, Palm Springs became the first city in Riverside County to change its zoning to allow medical marijuana collectives and co-ops; two will be permitted to operate in an industrial area.
Last summer, state Attorney General Jerry Brown released guidelines for law enforcement in dealing with medical marijuana. The Riverside County Sheriff's Department is overhauling its policy on the matter. San Bernardino County still wants to overturn the state law.
While federal law forbids the use of marijuana for any purpose, activists hope President Barack Obama's election will help their cause. He has pledged to end federal raids on medical marijuana dispensaries.
<span class=postbigbold>a shorter drive </span>
<table align=right class=posttable><tr><td class=postcell><img class=postimg src=http://www.palmspringsbum.org/bbs/bin/riverside-clinics.jpg></td></tr></table>
Obtaining medical marijuana used to require a drive to Palm Springs or Los Angeles, said Lanny Swerdlow, a registered nurse and one of the county's most vocal medical marijuana activists.
Now, at least seven doctors in western Riverside County write marijuana recommendations and dozens of delivery services connect patients with the drug, Swerdlow said.
Formed four years ago, ACC has offices in San Diego, LA, Long Beach and Palm Springs.
The Temecula office fills a market demand, Arbel said.
Located in leased space in a commercial office district, the 700-square-foot clinic is open once a week.
After filing out paperwork, patients discuss their condition with a licensed doctor, who determines whether marijuana can help.
Illnesses from glaucoma to AIDS qualify for marijuana treatment under California law.
If they are approved for treatment, ACC patients get a doctor's recommendation and an ID card.
The card and a 24-hour verification service help patients avoid problems with law enforcement.
The clinic does not have any marijuana on-site, and staff is barred by law from telling patients where to get it.
"If they ask, we tell them to Google it," Arbel said.
California also has a voluntary ID card system for patients. Health departments in 47 counties, including Riverside, issue the cards.
More than 27,000 cards have been issued to date, state figures indicate.
<span class=postbigbold>Setting guidelines </span>
Medical marijuana became legal in California when 56 percent of voters approved Prop. 215 in 1996.
In 2003, state lawmakers passed the Medical Marijuana Program Act, which set up the state ID card system and established rules for patients to cultivate marijuana.
San Bernardino County joined San Diego County in challenging the act, saying it contradicted federal law.
The state 4th District Court of Appeals rejected their argument last August, and the California Supreme Court declined to hear the case in October.
San Bernardino and other counties are taking the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently asked for briefs, said Lt. Rick Ells of the county Sheriff's Department.
The high court has not decided whether to take the case, he said.
San Bernardino refuses to issue ID cards.
The guidelines released by the attorney general allow marijuana collectives and co-ops to exist so long as they don't operate for profit. The groups must not purchase marijuana from illegal sources and must have detailed records proving users are legitimate patients.
The Riverside County Sheriff's Department is updating its medical marijuana policy to keep up with recent changes, said Capt. Mitch Alm of the sheriff's special investigations bureau.
The policy, which has no timetable, will set guidelines for field operations, he said.
Anderson, of the drug-free coalition, hopes the federal government maintains a tough stance on marijuana.
"We don't want our communities looking like Los Angeles or San Francisco where there are more pot shops than Starbucks," he wrote.
Reach Jeff Horseman at 951-375-3727 or jhorseman@PE.com