Pubdate: Tue, 05 Sep 2000
Source: Long Beach Press-Telegram (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Press-Telegram.


Remedy: There are simpler and fairer ways to deal with this issue.

In asking the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in an Oakland case, U.S. 
Solicitor General Seth Waxman said that allowing the use of marijuana for 
medical use would "promote disrespect and disregard" for federal drug laws. 
He got that right.

Californians, weary of having their ballot initiatives overturned, can 
hardly be expected to feel much respect for federal drug policies, 
particularly the government`s harsh opposition to Proposition 215. That is 
the measure, approved by the state's voters in 1996, allowing the medical 
use of marijuana.

Bone-headed enforcement of ill-conceived federal drug laws has caused 
tremendous grief nationally. But California and seven other states are 
targeted for special problems because they have passed laws allowing the 
use of marijuana to treat serious illnesses.

Long Beach's first criminal prosecution related to that issue is about to 
go to trial. David Zink, 55, who says he raises marijuana to treat his 
severe arthritis, has been charged with felony possession of marijuana for 
sale and for manufacturing a controlled substance.

Zink, an outspoken proponent for marijuana as medicine, is not the ideal 
poster boy for this issue. If he had stuck to using small amounts of 
marijuana for his ailments, he most likely would have gotten into no 
trouble at all.

Long Beach prosecutors generally have been mindful of the state-federal 
conflict, and so far haven't gone looking for such cases. But Zink had a 
yard full of marijuana, plus paraphernalia that could be used for measuring 
and distilling the substance. Prosecutors say that is evidence of an 
intention to sell the illegal substance.

Zink says in his defense that he and two friends, one with cancer and the 
other with post-polio syndrome, share the backyard crop-tending duties, as 
well as the fruits of their labor. The distilling equipment was intended 
only to isolate THC from marijuana for oral use because, Zink says, he 
doesn't like to smoke the weed.

Those facts muddy the issue. A somewhat more straightforward case has gone 
to trial in the Lake Tahoe area, where Steve Kubby and his wife Michele 
have been indicted on 19 counts of marijuana possession, cultivation, sale 
and possession for sale. There is no doubt the Kubbys grew and used 
marijuana to treat medical conditions; what they really are accused of is 
growing too much of it.

Further confusion about Proposition 215 arises from a decision last week by 
the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a temporary stay of an injunction allowing 
Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative to distribute medical marijuana.

The stay was merely a routine step that will lead to a ruling by the 
Supreme Court on the Oakland case. Unfortunately, the ruling will decide 
only whether a medical defense is allowable under federal law for 
distribution of marijuana, and not whether the California law is valid.

There is a much simpler and fairer solution to all of this. Congress should 
modify its drug laws to allow medical use of marijuana, or at least give 
states the option. (And while at it, Congress also should change the 
malevolent laws that treat one form of cocaine, powder, differently from 
another, crack, with the result that far more African-American users than 
whites go to prison.)

But simpler and fairer are not what motivates Congress. In this case it is 
fear. Fear of appearing soft on crime. Fear of voters, in other words.

Think about that.
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