Rev. Scott Imler considered by many the godfather of Southern California's medical marijuana movement is more apt these days to compare himself to Dr. Frankenstein.


"The whole thing has run amuk," said Imler, a staunch opponent of the commercialization in medical marijuana distribution he says has taken place since the West Hollywood canabis club he helped organize in 1997 was closed by federal authorities in 2001.


The minister had a vision of patient communities forming non-profit cooperatives to cultivate and distribute marijuana among themselves, but he said it fell victim to continued federal intransigence over recognizing California's right to implement Proposition 215, the ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana use that he co-authored in 1996.


The federal raid left in the lurch the 900 members of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, many of them AIDS-related cancer survivors who had discovered that a daily toke restored their appetite and alleviated pain and nausea caused by the disease and side-effects of treatment.


Market forces stepped in to create what has become a thriving industry of medical marijuana dispensaries that Imler contends often stretch both the letter and the spirit of the state's laws. That includes S.B 420, which established the framework for dispensaries by affirming the right of patients and caregivers to associate collectively or cooperatively to cultivate medical marijuana.


Imler is equally critical of the growing cadre of what he calls "pot doctors" who specialize in writing the state-required written recommendations for patients on what he considers often flimsy documentation of need.


"It's created this immense pool of so-called 'paper' patients and the impression that we need 200 outlets in Los Angeles County," said Imler, who continues to serve as resident pastor of Crescent Heights United Methodist Church, located only a few blocks from West Hollywood's highest concentration of dispensaries. "I think this is ridiculous."


William Dolphin, a spokesman for the patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, says that despite Imler's misgivings, easily accessible dispensaries provide an important service to seriously ill patients who lack the ability or resources "to grow their own medication."


"What the courts have backed up in interpreting SB 420 is that storefront retail dispensaries are legal under the state law, and in densely populated urban areas they are very much needed by patients," Dolphin said. "Not everyone has a green thumb."

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