pewresearchgraphicYou could almost hear the champagne corks popping at City Hall yesterday when the California Supreme Court issued its ruling that state law allowing for the collective and cooperative cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes is too narrow to preempt individual municipalities from banning medpot dispensaries. Truly, it is a short-term victory for the architects of the Long Beach ban, as the City is now safe from a host of lawsuits.

But before the decade is out, marijuana will (again) be legally available in our city, and there will be a lot of questions about why our current crop of city officials chose to commit police and other resources to thwart the will of the people, a wasteful strategic error that merely delayed the inevitable.

That city officials of today have worked so diligently to contravene the will of their constituency, the people they were elected and appointed to protect and serve, is inexcusable, especially when that constituency has repeatedly made it plain that we want safe, controlled access to marijuana for those who need it—or just want it. City officials know what residents told them in 2010: 53% of Long Beach favored of legalizing marijuana for recreational use[1]; and 65% of respondents to Councilmember Gerrie Schipske’s survey question told her they were against a ban of medpot dispensaries.

And these same city officials know that public opinion nationwide is trending toward complete legalization. They probably cannot claim ignorance of the Pew Research Center’s recent poll that found 52% of Americans now favor out-and-out legalization of marijuana for recreational use (which consistently polls far lower than legalization only for medicinal use).

The problem is, they don’t care. As a collective body, your city government simply does not care what you want on this subject. They don’t care that the only people really affected by a dispensary ban are those most in need of marijuana as medicine. They don’t care that most all the business that dispensaries are banned from getting is shifted to the black market. They don’t care that every dollar and man-hour police spend on raiding dispensaries is a dollar and man-hour that cannot be expended elsewhere.

Whatever their individual rationales, for at least some of these city officials it comes down to a political calculation. They feel they can afford not to care because they believe there will be no political fallout. It’s the same sort of calculation the federal government makes when it declines to listen to the calls of doctors—the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Lymphoma Foundation of America, The New England Journal of Medicine—to place cannabis in a different legal category from the one in which we find substances as dangerous as PCP.

As far as that calculation goes, they may be right. Even most of us who find our city officials completely wrongheaded on this issue are not single-issue voters, and we may approve of much other work these people do. And many of us who neither use cannabis nor have loved ones who rely upon it medicinally fail to view the broader implications of the City’s actions.

Personally, I find it shameful that our city officials persist not only in their failure to lead on this issue, but also in their failure just to faithfully represent us. And I would feel this way even if I lacked the libertarianism to find it oppressive and offensive that government works to deny me the self-determination not only to choose what substances I put in my body, but even what medicines best serve my needs. I would feel this way even were I without my philosophically pragmatic stance that discretionary public resources should be funneled to combat our community’s most serious problems (violence, homelessness, cutbacks in essential services) and needs (infrastructure, schools, youth programs) long before we consider siphoning them off for anything else—never mind the fact that marijuana taxation would put millions of dollars into city coffers that could be used for [insert your favorite civic program here].

Because the legislature and the judiciary has not saved the City of Long Beach from itself, the catalyst for change must come from we the people. And that’s exactly what we will do. And soon. Because when even a Fox News poll finds that 85% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana for medicinal use, and we all know that California is more liberal regarding cannabis than the rest of the country, and that Long Beach is more liberal still, there’s no doubt about how this will turn out.

This week’s victory for the City is a defeat for our city, and in a few short years, when our city officials are no longer able to interfere with cannabis being easily accessible at least to those among us most in need, when the black market for marijuana will be curtailed by lawful distribution, when police officers will be unshackled from the misguided leadership that directs them to spend time on something so unrelated to stopping genuine crime, when our Police and Fire Departments and schools and libraries and so many other programs are benefiting financially from the distribution of a substance that the Scripps Research Institute says appears to inhibit the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, that the California Pacific Medical Center says inhibits the spread of breast-cancer cells, and that researchers at Harvard University say halves the rate of tumor growth in lung cancer, we will be asking what all the prohibitionist fuss was about. We will ask what happened to the pragmatic, progressive spirit by which our city council seemed guided once upon a time, what happened to the collective, compassionate wisdom given voice by current Vice-Mayor Robert Garcia in August 2009: “The medical-marijuana movement is here, and it’s something we have to deal with and accept.”

But we shouldn’t wait. We should ask these questions now, and demand satisfactory answers. Because even though Long Beachers have told our city officials what we want, we have yet to say it loudly enough to make them listen, or to articulate our desire in such a manner that they cannot help but hear.

[1] 53% of Long Beach residents voted Yes on Proposition 19, which would have legalized recreational marijuana use statewide.