San Diego ASA Directs its Attention to County Prevention Plan

By: Terrie Best

Further to San Diego Americans for Safe Access (SDASA) ongoing efforts to reach out to County Alcohol and Drug Services in its oversight of HARM, the County contracted organization that year after year lobbies against safe access in San Diego, members of SDASA attended the Alcohol and Drug Advisory Board (ADAB) meeting to speak during public comment.

ADAB was formed to “insure citizen professional involvement in all stages of the planning process leading to the formulation and adoption of the State-mandated County Alcohol and Drugs Services Plan.” How this works is ADAB advises the county on community needs so the county can formulate its prevention plan; the country creates the plan as well as proposals and guidelines to carry it out, then organizations such as HARM bid on those proposals.

ADAB’s members are appointed by the County Board of Supervisors and made up of fifteen (15) voting members, five ex officio members with each Supervisor nominating three members.

SDASA knows that ADAB is the place to start when attempting to affect change to San Diego’s seriously outdated Alcohol and Drug Prevention Plan.

Months ago, SDASA endeavored to address why medical marijuana collectives are being targeted by HARM under their county contract. So, in this effort, we felt, as a part of the communities ADAB represents, we should have a voice in advising the county how they formulate their plan as it pertains to medical marijuana, legal since 1996.

SDASA and Medical Marijuana Task Force (MMTF) member Larry Sweet agreed to speak to ADAB to that end. Larry is a retired therapist and social worker, who cares a great deal about the future of compassionate use. He took SDASA’s first step in reaching out to these board members by voicing with eloquence and heart his position on safe access, safe neighborhoods and the necessity of regulations to achieve both. Larry began his five minutes of comment by telling of his history as a county servant in the Child Protection Office, his years as a Licensed Social Worker working with children and his own personal experience with the benefits of medical cannabis to replace the dangerous and addictive drugs he had been using to treat his medical conditions. The ADAB group was gracious enough to let Larry speak beyond the five minutes and as Larry wound down, he offered to come back and show his PowerPoint presentation on medical marijuana.

After Larry spoke, Richard McGaffigan, the Chair of the Board and one of District Five’s appointees commented that ADAB did not have much authority on this issue. While SDASA knows the board can not single-handedly change the tide of opposition, Larry explained we were there to open a dialogue for discouraging ADAB from giving the county a green light to fund lobbying efforts for a ban on collectives.

ADAB member Jenifer Mendel, an appointee of District 2, argued that currently the collectives serve children and are supplied by the cartels. While, SDASA knows this is misguided, Larry was able to answer this concern by the stating that MMTF regulations would put an end to any of these practices. Since we were there to find common ground, I did not admonish Ms. Mendel that Mexican cartel marijuana is not medicinal quality marijuana and would likely never be found in any collective. I did, however address the issue of sales to children by affirming that not one collective member has ever been prosecuted for selling to children.

Susan Bower, the County’s Alcohol and Drug Program’s Deputy Director, spoke out that the county does not fund HARM in their eradication endeavors She asserted that the county funds HARM receives are to be used to “reduce the glamorization and normalization of marijuana to children.”

However, I have been watching the county’s BUYNET system, which is the Online site where the county posts their requests for proposal’s (RFP’s). Recently they posted their newest RFP under the Prevention Plan and that RFP clearly states that HARM contractors are to: “utilize appropriate evidence-based strategies to address marijuana outlet density and the proximity of such establishments to areas frequented by youth.”

SDASA has three issues with this RFP. First, the county should not be offering proposals specific to medical marijuana collectives. Second, this scope is well beyond what HARM has endeavored in San Diego in the past. And, third, we have seen no evidence based strategies utilized in any of the presentations HARM sets forth.

SDASA continually monitors HARM’s efforts and we have seen only their anecdotal testimony of how medical marijuana collectives operate. Further, since the collective density issue will be handled by the regulations the Medical Marijuana Task Force hands down, it has been counterproductive to HARM’s proposal guidelines to undermine the work of the task force, something they have done in the past at MMTF meetings and City Council meetings.

Additionally, minutes from previous ADAB meetings as well as HARMs reports to another group, the County Alcohol and Drug Providers clearly show HARM’s activities involve supporting an outright ban on collectives, and minimizing safe access in San Diego. While it remains to be seen how much of these efforts are carried out with county money, the question I have repeatedly asked Ms. Bower is how will the county ensure that HARM does not use county funds if they choose to overstep these guidelines in the future.

Susan Bower is responsible for all of the action county contractors take to carry out the county’s Prevention Plan using county money and at the ADAB meeting she agreed that strong oversight is needed to ensure HARM does not co-mingle county funds with any outside funds they receive to carry out their efforts to ban safe access.

Since SDASA began this campaign requesting oversight, HARM members have been decidedly absent from all of the latest City Council and Medical Marijuana Task Force meetings which they normally attend to speak in favor of the ban. We are cautiously optimistic Ms. Bower has made it clear to HARM that County Alcohol and Drug Prevention funds are not to be used to attempt to circumvent state law. We appreciate Ms. Bower’s time and attention to this.

Lastly, there are a number of open seats on the ADAB, and happily Larry Sweet has applied for a seat in his district. SDASA appreciates Larry’s on-going service to the safe access community and wishes him luck in his application.

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