But the issue isn’t really with the choice of real estate for a
meeting place or the distribution of fliers on the street. The issue comes from
a combination of a large number of patients, and the compensation each provides
to the caregiver. The issue comes from dispensaries operating as ordinary
businesses. The issue, in a nutshell, is the pursuit of profits.
There are two kinds of enterprises in law – “for profit” and
“non-profit”. The purpose of Proposition 215 and SB 420 was to establish a
legal system where people with a medical need could obtain marijuana in a safe
and hopefully “reasonable” manner. If the general public intent can be safely
summarized, it was to protect sick people rather than to allow someone to open
a marijuana store. The openly expressed hope of many people was that the needs
of patients would be taken care of by some loving combination of good friends
and like-minded bands of compassionate compatriots who would volunteer their
labor and pool their resources to provide for the collective non-profit good.
The reality is that perhaps $50 billion of marijuana is sold in the US each
year but the fond hope was that somehow the needs of the patients could be
addressed separately from those issues.
Non-profit medical care is a noble idea but it somewhat overlooks
the reality that growing a consistent supply of medical grade marijuana
requires a level of effort, expense, and skills not universally available in
either the patient or the primary caregiver population. While a purely
volunteer system would be morally laudable from the profit standpoint, such a
system would always be an unreliable source of medicine to patients.
Lately, some dispensary owners have been caught with large amounts
of cash and other possessions that indicate a level of wealth considerably
better than the average. It somehow offends the sensibilities to think that
someone may be driving an expensive sports car with the profits earned from
people in wheelchairs. It would be fair to say that most people did not
envision hundreds of establishments that are more like liquor stores than
caring friends or family members.
The Real Moral and Legal Question - Profits
This brings us to the real moral and legal question: Can a
caregiver operate with the intent of making a profit?
According to SB 420: (c) A primary caregiver who receives
compensation for actual expenses, including reasonable compensation
incurred for services provided to an eligible qualified patient or person with
an identification card to enable that person to use marijuana under this
article, or for payment for out-of-pocket expenses incurred in providing those
services, or both, shall not, on the sole basis of that fact, be subject to
prosecution or punishment under Section 11359 or 11360. (11362.765(c))
In short, caregivers shall not be subject to prosecution
solely because they received “actual expenses, including reasonable
compensation for services provided.” That is, what would otherwise
be an illegal sale of marijuana is exempted from prosecution, even though money
and marijuana have changed hands. The law states that “reasonable compensation”
shall not be cause for prosecution – leaving the implication that “unreasonable
compensation” would fall outside the bounds of protection, and thus be subject