Graphic by Olivia Bocanegra
Graphic by Olivia Bocanegra

This June, people in Riverside will be able to vote on the Riverside Medical Marijuana Restriction and Limitation Act. This initiative made its way onto the ballot because of the efforts of medical marijuana advocates, who gathered enough signatures via petitions to allow the city to vote on it. The initiative, if passed, would allow for the operation of several medical marijuana dispensaries in Riverside, subject to regulation and taxation by the city. These dispensaries would only be allowed in certain areas, away from residential districts and schools.

Legally speaking, the measure is at a rather precarious position. At the state level, the success of the petitions distributed in Riverside means that the measure must be allowed on the ballot. That, after all, is the democratic process at work. To reinforce this, a local judge threw out a lawsuit intended to keep the initiative off the ballot. It is for this reason that the measure still sees the light of day.

On the other hand though, and far more significantly, the measure is contrary to established federal law. Specifically, because of standing laws passed long ago by the U.S. government, the sale and distribution of marijuana — medical or otherwise — is illegal. A little knowledge of the American Constitution will tell that when a conflict arises between federal and state law, judges must follow the laws and precedents set at the federal level instead of those at the state level. Hence, throwing out the lawsuit, verges on being highly unconstitutional and therefore wrong.

Even though federal statutes are being disregarded by proponents of the measure, at a slightly lower level, the California Supreme Court has already upheld the right of cities to ban medical marijuana dispensaries. This means that the pro-marijuana measure is against federal law, and though the city is within its rights to ban new dispensaries, in such a state of illegitimacy, it should not be presented to voters, regardless of the efforts of its supporters.

Aside from the issues stemming from the legal side of things, the manner of execution for the measure points to the illegitimacy of the dispensaries themselves. The wording of the measure makes it clear that the facilities would not be operated anywhere near schools, parks, and other places that might be called “family friendly.”

This raises an important question: Why should the dispensaries be kept, one might say, out of reach of children? The answer is quite simple — the very existence of any place that distributes medical marijuana is a danger to any safe family environment. After all, something that has to be kept clear of children for safety purposes probably poses just as much threat to adults. Granted, in an ideal world adults are supposed to be more responsible with the use of drugs than children, which is why they are permitted to have access to them, but there will always be someone who will abuse that right while ignoring the dangers.

One might ask, what dangers does marijuana present to its user?

While it cannot be denied that marijuana does have some positive effects as a drug, specifically as a painkiller, it also has its immediate drawbacks when used. These side effects include memory impairment, diminished motor skills, altered perception and decreased cognitive abilities. Furthermore, a major debate (at least, for those in medical fields) is whether or not marijuana use has significant long-term effects for users. As long as this extremely important aspect of the drug is unknown, there should be no way for people to legally have access to this controlled substance.

Perhaps someday medical science will show that marijuana can be used safely, and maybe it will be made into a form that is not repulsive to the senses (I doubt I am alone in this sentiment). Until then, any ballot measure that legalizes medical marijuana is going to stink like someone who has just finished lighting up prematurely to celebrate their “victory.”