Pubdate: Sun, 04 Nov 2001
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Hearst Communications Inc.
Author: Terence Hallinan
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Ballot Initiatives)


Five years after California voters passed Proposition 215, making it 
legal for doctors to recommend to patients to use marijuana 
medicinally, the Bush administration is trying to take away those 

In recent weeks, the Drug Enforcement Administration has raided the 
Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center -- a 3,000-member dispensary 
known for its rigorous membership requirements -- and a clinic in El 
Dorado County that served 6,000 patients. They are apparently trying 
to undo the most significant and promising reform of the 1990s.

More than 5 million Californians voted yes on 215. In San Francisco, 
the support was a resounding 80 percent. Medical marijuana even 
carried Orange County. Exit polls showed that most voters had made up 
their minds based on personal experience or the report of a loved 
one. It was a stunning political development.

Yet, Prop. 215 had been opposed by all the major candidates running 
for national and state office, as well 57 of California's 58 district 
attorneys. Clearly, the voters were trying to tell the government 
that, contrary to war-on-drugs rhetoric, they regarded marijuana as a 
relatively safe medicinal herb that can be very effective at 
stimulating appetite, reducing nausea and easing physical and 
psychological pain.

This reality was most clearly understood in San Francisco, where the 
AIDS epidemic had taken and touched so many lives. The passage of the 
initiative gave many voters renewed hope in the democratic process -- 
a sense that we, the people, could impose common sense when the 
government lost its way.

An attempt to dis-implement Prop. 215 began as soon as it passed into 
law (as section 11362.5 of the California Health & Safety Code). In 
December 1996, state Attorney General Dan Lungren, a Republican, 
convened a special "Emergency All Zones Meeting" of district 
attorneys, sheriffs and police chiefs to outline his "narrow 
interpretation" of the new law. He advised prosecuting marijuana 
possession cases as zealously as before and requiring doctors to 
testify in open court. A few weeks later, U.S. Drug Czar Barry 
McCaffrey warned California doctors that they might lose their 
federal licenses if they approved patients' marijuana use.

Our current state attorney general, Bill Lockyer, a Democrat who 
supported Prop. 215, has left implementation up to the counties. In 
San Francisco, we have tried to respect the letter and spirit of the 
law. The Department of Public Health has established an 
identification-card system that protects patient confidentiality; 
some 2,000 cards have been issued to date. Chief of Police Fred Lau 
sent out a department bulletin reminding all officers that documented 
patients and caregivers have the right to possess and cultivate 
marijuana for medical use. Nonprofit dispensaries have been 
established to provide the drug to patients; some function as support 
groups for people who are very sick indeed.

 From a law-enforcement perspective, Prop. 215 has been implemented 
successfully in San Francisco. It has reduced crime as well as the 
costs associated with arrest, prosecution and incarceration; and it 
contributes to the public health and safety.

It is ominous that the federal government has moved against the 
dispensary in Los Angeles and the physician in El Dorado County. News 
of DEA agents seizing patients' records has sent waves of fear 
throughout the state, as have sightings of agents, real or imagined, 
spying on local clubs. Patients and their caregivers have been 
calling my office seeking reassurance that their access to a medicine 
they rely on will not be denied.

On their behalf, I call on the DEA to respect the rights of medical 
marijuana patients and caregivers in San Francisco and throughout the 
state. I reiterate the argument made by Attorney General Lockyer in 
support of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative: "The states have 
a sovereign interest in matters pertaining to the health and welfare 
of their citizens, and the state ballot initiative process is a valid 
and lawful manner for those citizens to develop policy in these 

The Bush administration supports, in theory, the right of local 
jurisdictions to create law enforcement and public health policies. 
The president's call for bipartisanship and focus in response to 
terrorist attacks has our support. But bipartisanship is not a 
one-way street. The will of voters in a predominantly Democratic city 
and state, on one of the most important issues of our time, should be 

Terence Hallinan is the district attorney of San Francisco.
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