Pubdate: Wed,  7 Nov 2001
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2001, Ventura County Star
Author: Peter Schrag, Sacramento Bee
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Oakland Cannabis Court Case)


U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft issues unspecified warnings about new
terrorist attacks - somewhere, someplace in some form. The FBI declares
that, despite a month of intense pursuit and a million-dollar reward, it has
few good leads in its search for the anthrax terrorist, or terrorists, and
again asks the public for help. 

But there seems to be no uncertainty and, it seems, plenty of investigative
and legal muscle for at least one phase of the federal government's other
war - rooting out California's providers of medical marijuana. 

In the past month or so, according to the New York Times, the feds have
uprooted a marijuana garden run by patients, who under the provisions of
California Proposition 215, passed by voters in 1996, have the legal right
to smoke pot if they have a doctor's recommendation. The feds also have
raided a West Hollywood cannabis buyers' club, one of the largest in the
state. And they've seized the records of a lawyer and doctor in the town of
Cool who recommended pot for patients suffering from the effects of cancer
chemotherapy and the symptoms of AIDS, glaucoma and other maladies. 

The Justice Department is operating entirely within the provisions of
federal law, which declares pot to be a dangerous substance, lacking any
medicinal value. Last spring, the U.S. Supreme Court reinforced the Justice
Department strategy by overwhelmingly striking down the claims of the
Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club that medical necessity gave it a common-law
defense against the federal injunction shutting it down. 

The feds' campaign is confined almost entirely to civil proceedings, seeking
court orders and threatening doctors with loss of their right to prescribe,
a sanction that in essence would drive them out of practice. They thereby
avoid the daunting prospect of getting criminal convictions from jurors who
may themselves have voted for measures such as Proposition 215 and who in
any case are likely to sympathize with terminally ill patients struggling to
mitigate pain and prolong life. 

In virtually every state where medical marijuana initiatives have been put
before voters - Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Colorado, Nevada, the
District of Columbia - they've passed overwhelmingly. And in a poll taken
last March by the Pew Research Center, 73 percent of Americans said they
favored medical use of marijuana with a doctor's prescription. 

So why are the feds harassing the marijuana providers? To be sure, there's
no certainty that they're only growing for medicinal purposes or providing
pot only to people legally entitled to get it even under state law. But
especially at a time like this, when we're told that the FBI is devoting
extraordinary resources to the prevention of domestic terrorism, you'd think
the feds would have more important things to do. 

Even in ordinary times, this was a dubious campaign, especially in an
administration that so constantly professed its respect for state
prerogatives and a disdain for the heavy hand of Washington. In virtually
every other Western nation - Canada, Britain and most of Europe, where the
prime objective is to reduce the harm of both drug use and harsh drug law
enforcement - there are strong moves to depenalize marijuana possession.
American politicians seem to be the only ones who've adamantly resisted that

In a major new book, "Drug War Heresies," Robert MacCoun, who teaches law
and public policy at University of California at Berkeley, and Peter Reuter
of the University of Maryland, point out that depenalizing is not the same
as legalization. It simply can mean far more discretion in enforcement, as
the justice system already does on crimes such as prostitution and gambling.
Where such policies are wisely pursued, MacCoun's and Reuter's voluminous
data show no significant increase in use. 

In their most recent ballot measures, as in Nevada last year, the promoters
of medical marijuana have sought to designate the state itself as the
provider of medical marijuana. So far it hasn't happened, but if it does, it
would put the feds in the embarrassing position of having to go after state

In the meantime, the primary providers under the state medical marijuana
laws remain the users themselves, or those who, under those initiatives, are
their primary caretakers - usually under the general supervision, and thus
the general approval, of the state. 

But what's most troubling about the feds' recent efforts to go after the
providers is that they are doing it at all. The government's own studies
have shown that the danger of smoked marijuana is totally irrelevant for
terminal cases. Nor is there any evidence from the European cases that
depenalizing its use leads to increased use of cocaine or other more
dangerous drugs. 

When every spare agent and investigator should be devoted to multiple
threats of terrorism, many from sources we may not have fully imagined, why
is the government making war on some of our sickest citizens and the doctors
who are treating them?
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