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California's Pot Economy Explored In 2 Tv Shows


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California's Pot Economy Explored in 2 TV Shows

Posted by CN Staff on November 29, 2011 at 17:21:40 PT

By David Wiegand

Source: San Francisco Chronicle


California -- It says a lot about how complicated the national debate on marijuana has become that, even together, two new documentaries airing this week barely cover certain aspects of the topic.

One of the challenges facing the producers of both "Weed Wars," a real-life series premiering Thursday on the Discovery Channel, and National Geographic Channel's "Marijuana Gold Rush," a one-off airing Friday, is that the national debate has intensified in just the past two months.


On Oct. 7, the federal government's announcement of plans to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries sent the billion-dollar industry into panic mode - the collective equivalent of swallowing the roach.


But even the perceived moment of clarity from the feds doesn't really help anyone sort out the issues - moral, financial, legal and medical - which have only become more complicated since California became the first state in the nation to legalize pot for medical use in 1996. Since then, 15 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized the sale of medical marijuana, but federal law still classifies the plant as an illegal substance, and the Supreme Court has sided with the feds.


The lack of resolution to the debate between the federal government and the states has not only enabled the industry to grow to such an extent that it rivals illegal drug sales, it has also further complicated the debate itself. The longer it continues, the higher the financial stakes become for revenue-starved local and state governments, and the more the quasi-legal medical pot industry becomes further entrenched in the states' economies.


What the two documentaries airing this week have in common is that they are largely about the financial side of the pot debate. "Weed Wars," whose producers, including Chuck Braverman, have filmed four episodes so far and may film more, focuses exclusively on Harborside Health Center in Oakland.


Said to be the world's largest legal dispensary of medical marijuana, Harborside does about $21 million of business annually and is one of the many legal dispensaries in California that contribute to the $100 million in sales tax the state gets from the pot business. And that doesn't count the amount assessed by the city of Oakland, an issue that consumes Steve DeAngelo, Harborside's executive director, and his staff in the first episode of "Weed Wars."


At issue in "Weed Wars" is whether the new tax imposed by Oakland has to be paid "in advance," as the city terms it, or retroactively for the previous year, which is how DeAngelo and his staff see it. When the law was passed, DeAngelo argues, the city promised the tax would not be retroactive. While his argument may have semantic logic, he learns again that you can't really fight city hall, something of which he's well aware after years of working as an advocate for legalization.


While it's enlightening to see how Harborside operates and to meet the people who make it work, like Harborside co-founder David Weddingdress (he long ago decided he was more comfortable not having to deal with trousers), the focus of "Weed Wars" is sometimes frustratingly narrow.


* Weed Wars: Reality series. 10 p.m. Thurs. on Discovery Channel.


* National Geographic Investigates: Marijuana Gold Rush: Documentary. 9 p.m. Fri. on National Geographic Channel.




Complete Article: http://drugsense.org/url/gZu3t2eU


Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)

Author: David Wiegand

Published: Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Copyright: 2011 San Francisco Chronicle

Contact: letters@sfchronicle.com

Website: http://www.sfgate.com/chronicle/


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