Pubdate: Fri, 05 May 2000
Source: Birmingham News (AL)
Copyright: 2000 The Birmingham News
Contact:  2200 4th Avenue North, Birmingham AL 35203
Fax: (205) 325-2283

Danielle Baptista said that smoking and eating marijuana alleviates
the pain she feels from multiple sclerosis.

"Those of us alive today were born into Prohibition," the Fultondale
resident said. "We don't know it as anything but an illegal drug. It
shouldn't be that way."

Baptista, 37, who is confined to a wheelchair, said she uses marijuana
to relieve the stiffness of joints and muscle spasms to help endure
her physical therapy and riding horses.

On Saturday, Baptista and other supporters of legalizing marijuana for
medicinal purposes in Alabama will hold a rally from 1 to 7 p.m.
Saturday at Brother Bryan Park on Birmingham's Southside. The rally is
one of 92 events to be held worldwide Saturday as part of the
Millennium Marijuana March.

But some say legalization of marijuana makes no sense.

"The drug is still considered to have severe side effects," said Stan
Watson, the top researcher at the Alabama Policy Institute, a
conservative think tank in Mountain Brook. "Marijuana is considered a
carcinogen, and if we are moving toward more regulation of tobacco,
then it hardly makes sense to legalize marijuana."

The state's top legal official also opposes decriminalizing

"The war on drugs requires better and smarter enforcement and
innovative programs, such as drug courts that treat addiction problems
sternly but with compassion," Alabama Attorney General Bill Pryor
said. "The answer, however, is not to surrender."

For the past four weeks, LeAnne Owen, the Birmingham organizer of the
rally, has been posting fliers advertising the rally. But her fliers
usually are torn down within a day, she said.

"When you are for the legalization of marijuana, you become a pariah
to a lot of people," Owen said.

Owen, 30, a self-employed massage therapist, wants to place the
marijuana issues on the 2002 ballot.

The Millennium Marijuana March is an activity of the group Cannabis
2000, one of the largest advocate groups for legalizing some uses of
marijuana and hemp.

Seven states have decriminalized possession of the drug for medicinal

Last week, the Hawaii Legislature voted to allow the use of medicinal
marijuana. Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano is expected to sign the bill
because he has been a proponent of legalization, said Kathleen
Racuya-Markrich, Cayetano's press secretary.

Hawaii would join Alaska, Arizona, California, Maine, Oregon and
Washington that also allow some types of legal marijuana usage.

Although this is the eighth year that Birmingham has played host to a
legalization rally, the issue has not gained momentum, Owen said.

A person caught with a marijuana cigarette for personal use faces a
$2,000 fine and up to a year in jail, and a person caught growing
marijuana with the intention of selling it could face life in prison,
said Greg Yaghmai, an assistant district attorney in Jefferson County.

To legalize medicinal marijuana, state election laws require the
Alabama Legislature to pass a measure that would allow voters to amend
the state constitution.

Auburn University history professor Wayne Flynt said he does not see
legalization occurring.

"We have a very traditional culture and this is not a traditional
issue," Flynt said. "This flies in the face of traditional values."

Baptista is not waiting until medicinal usage is legalized in Alabama,

Baptista has been denied participation in a federal program that
supplies marijuana cigarettes to patients for alleviating pain from
diseases such as glaucoma and cancer.

Nine people in the nation are enrolled in the program, which gets its
marijuana from the University of Mississippi in Oxford, said Scott
Colvin, spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of
Marijuana Laws.

Baptista, a retired art and photography instructor at the University
of Alabama at Birmingham, said she plans to buy land to grow marijuana.

"I've already written (U.S. Attorney General) Janet Reno to tell her
when I get my farm, I'm going to grow marijuana -- 2 acres at the
minimum," she said.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Greg