California’s 15 years of medical cannabis: Talk about the compassion

Patient activist Ryan ‘Mr. Compassion’ Landers looks at 15 years of medical cannabis in California

Ryan Landers, who worked on the Proposition 215 campaign and also on language that ended up in Senate Bill 420, reflects on 15 years of medical cannabis in California.

Ryan Landers, who worked on the Proposition 215 campaign and also on language that ended up in Senate Bill 420, reflects on 15 years of medical cannabis in California.

Photo By priscilla garcia

Ryan Landers often works as an expert witness on medical-cannabis trials. This past Monday morning during a chat with SN&R, he’d been preparing for a case involving a woman who’d been charged with felony intent to sell. But then, he got a text that said the case was dismissed.

Unfortunately for Landers and other medical-cannabis patients, it doesn’t appear likely that the federal government will be dismissing its own pot crackdown any time soon. The AIDS patient, who was on the team that passed Proposition 215 and also helped write the language that was included in Senate Bill 420, says it’s been a wild 15 years of medical pot in the Golden State.

Five million people voted for Proposition 215. Is this what they envisioned when they approved medicinal use?

I’m sure some of them did, but I’m sure some of them didn’t.

But now the so-called “green rush” is over, right?

The problem was that after President [Barack] Obama said it was OK, everybody went for a free-for-all. But they acted like the federal law had changed, when I kept reminding that it hadn’t. And everybody got too comfortable. …

And, if you look at even what the federal government said in the press conference, it’s been the past two years when all the problems have started.

What do you think should happen?

That’s a tough one, because new regulation potentially means overregulation. If you take away what 215 was meant to do, it will impact patients. … You really have to watch what you’re doing [with new laws] so that you’re not going to stop—or at least put a waiver in for the patient who needs cannabis but can’t afford it. But we can’t be doing what these doctors are doing, writing 99-plant recommendations for everyone.

So, part of the problem is physicians referring too many patients, and for such a low cost?

That’s part of the big problem that’s been happening, these doctors have loosened up … and the price has come down to some 50 bucks to get a recommendation from a doctor. … This leads to abuse.

Where did it go wrong?

Unfortunately, most people didn’t understand how the law works. They didn’t realize it would come to a crisis. I knew that it would. I knew that the feds would eventually come after California. … But I think the federal government should only go after people who are abusing it, not the nonprofit collective.

But they’re going after everyone.

They want the big places, because they want the high-end checking account, and they want people near parks and schools and whatever, and then they’re going to go down from there.

Would they go after you?

Oh, sure, if I was doing what some of these people are doing, growing some 200 plants out in my backyard.

So it’s about money, surprise.

They automatically assume that if people are making more money, they’re doing something wrong. And even during the 215 campaign, officials were saying, “Somebody’s going to make money, somebody’s going to make a dollar.” And they were so scared of people making money off marijuana.

Maybe they should donate some of the money to politicians, like pharmaceutical companies?

They should not be allowed to. If you’re talking about health care becoming so expensive that you’re pricing people out of health care, the easiest way to stop that is to stop political donations.

The feds recently said you cannot sell a gun to a medical-pot patient. Why was the National Rifle Association silent on this?

Because they’ve been hands-off many years on this, because they don’t want to combine drugs and guns.

Did you ever think you’d see medical pot come to this?

I didn’t even think I’d be alive still. I didn’t even think I’d turn 30. And now in a month and nine days I turn 40. … People are shocked I’m around. State Sen. Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg stops to say how healthy I look when he sees me in the Capitol. Obviously, marijuana has helped me, and a lot of patients live healthier and live longer.

What surprises you about the current state of cannabis in California?

That we’re still being attacked, and the ways that we are being attacked, and that the Obama administration hasn’t done anything to stop it. … Obama can’t afford to lose any votes, and he’s throwing them in the trash can.

Will you vote for Obama in 2012?

I really don’t know. I was on the campaign, believe it or not, but I cannot help now. But I seriously question whether the Republicans will be better. …

You know, I think it’s honestly people who are blaming Obama for some of our own patients’ attitudes and actions. It got out of control. People blew it out of control. They didn’t care, the abuses, and the federal government got sick of it. Now, did [the feds] have to come in so heavy-handed, and threaten patients and jobs? … It’s things like that that creates more harm for patients.

Does 215 still work?

Oh, yeah, because any of the laws that people enact, we can overturn in the courts.

What should medical-cannabis distribution look like in the future?

Similar to how we’ve been doing it here in Sacramento. When we were unregulated, we had less problems because we self-regulated. We worked together more, as a community, unlike how we do things now. … We had a lot more peaceful system, we worked together, there was less competition.

It’s not like that at all now?

Not at all.


Because of competition. More places created more competition. In the county, you had everybody trying to beat moratoriums that they missed in the city.

Does Sacramento need 100 medical-cannabis collectives?

I think we could do far more with a little less, and that would go a long way.

What happens next?

We keep pushing forward. The day we stop pushing forward is the day we die.

But specifically, do you think most clubs will make it?

That’s going to be very curious to look at. It sounds like some of the dispensaries will survive, but it’s going to be tough.

You think so?

I think it’s going to be. If they take a few buildings of places—not like that strip mall in [Los Angeles], that’s different—if they take it to some of these decent clubs who are just helping people, they are going to scare landlords off.

Will it go that far?

To make a point? Sure. You’ve got to remember that most of what they’re doing right now is to make a point. They’re already doing it. They’re going after three buildings in L.A.

Are you scared?

I’m scared for the patients. I’m scared that the access is going to dwindle away. I’m scared that the city council … from what I hear, they’ve already had a closed-door meeting … to change the ordinance up.

What is the city changing about the ordinance?

That they’re going to change it to 1,000 feet from places like schools and parks, and that clubs who were told they were going to get a variance [from the planning commission] aren’t any longer going to get that.

So how many dispensaries will be left standing?

The impact is they’re going to drive everything underground. But it’s going to be less safe—no more testing, which we’ve been doing in the city for a long while. None of the marijuana’s going to be tested for patients anymore, and that’s a big downfall.

And will the county write an ordinance still?

Not now, no. Now, they’ll just enact the ban they didn’t enact because they didn’t think they had to in ’05.

Fifteen years ago, you called it the Compassionate Use Act. Is the compassion gone?

No, I’m still very compassionate. The corporate side of it had taken a lot of the compassion away from it, but I hope to get back to where the compassion is at.