Is the clash over medical marijuana between San Diego's city hall and federal prosecutors giving way to collaboration?
There were hints of that in a high-level summit here Monday -- attended by San Diego's mayor and U.S. attorney, who have been feuding for months over enforcement issues involving cultivation and distribution.
For some of those on hand, seeing Bob Filner and Laura Duffy in the same room exploring those and other concerns was tantamount to believing there might be common ground.
Mayor, U.S. Attorney Level on Medical Marijuana
The host of the gathering included representatives of law enforcement, science, health care, education and community interest.
Former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), enlightened by his own addiction and mental health struggles during his eight terms in Congress.
Kennedy thinks San Diego could become 'Ground Zero' for finding ways to settle the legal and emotional issues surrounding ‘compassionate’ handling of the use of cannabis.
In his view, the debate all too often devolves into arguments that boil down to “Light 'Em Up" or "Lock 'Em Up.”
"I think you can do something special here in San Diego,” Kennedy said in an interview Monday. “I literally think if you can bring the U.S. Attorney's office, the mayor's office and local political leaders here together, this could be a real win. Not only for San Diego, but for the rest of the country."
Kennedy now chairs "Smart Approaches to Marijuana", a nonprofit, bipartisan think tank that’s looking into how best to standardize and regulate medicinal uses of pot – while keeping recreational uses illegal.
Those approaches focus on everyone from doctors to patients and growers to distributors, with input from the DEA and prosecutors.
"You would be setting up a model here that could help answer a lot of concerns all across the country -- that we're going too far in one direction, or too far in the other,” said Kennedy. “People are really in the middle, and you've got to define what that middle is. And that's the job I hope San Diego takes on."
From Filner and Duffy came perspective that seemed to open the door to some kind of collaboration.
"There's got to be a way to come together,” Filner said in an interview Monday. “And if, say, Ms. Duffy and I can agree on an approach, we can become the model here in San Diego of how to deal with it in a smart way."
Filner envisions, for example, ".. a far more tight, prescription-based use of marijuana, that you can only get at a certain place or two. Maybe Ms. Duffy and I could agree on something like that."
For her part, Ms. Duffy didn’t argue the point.
"The more we can work together with members of the community to identify the legitimate individuals who need that treatment,” she said, “and not to expand the recreational use of marijuana, especially among our youth -- then that's something I want to be involved in."
Duffy said she and her fellow U.S. attorneys nationwide are coming around to the idea of community engagement on the issues: "We, I think, need to be taking on -- in a way that we haven't before -- a greater leadership role in developing that conversation, and cutting that path forward. And so this is an opportunity to do just that."
Other concerns expressed during the summit involved the prospect of more states legalizing marijuana -- not just for medicinal purposes, but recreational use.
And, that legalizing and taxing marijuana might backfire, with the new markets winding up cornered by “Big Tobacco” and even “Big Liquor” – thereby perpetuating addiction cycles – when tobacco and alcohol taxes only cover 10 percent of society’s costs in terms of health care, accidents, and legal fallout from the dysfunction that stem from overindulgence.
"When we want real solutions,” Kennedy said, “We need to work together, and that's the goal of this."