Pubdate: Wed, 12 Dec 2001
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2001 San Francisco Examiner
Author: Thomas D. Elias, Special To The Examiner
Bookmark: (Ashcroft, John)


WHEN he ran for president, George W. Bush told one campaign audience after 
another the federal government is too big and too active. He even suggested 
once that states -- not the feds -- should decide whether to legalize 

Bush's attorney general, John Ashcroft, was an even more adamant advocate 
of states' rights during his years in the Senate, advocating among other 
things for states to make their own voting rights laws.

This talk seemed academic at the time. But no longer, as medical marijuana 
patients around California prepare for an expected spate of raids in 
addition to two conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration in October.

Under Bush, states' rights appear to go no farther than the right to do 
whatever the president and Ashcroft like. It's an attitude that runs 
counter to a longtime legal tradition allowing states to grant their 
citizens more rights than the federal Constitution, but never less.

It's also a typical attitude for attorneys general everywhere. When 
Republican Dan Lungren was California attorney general, he was lambasted 
for refusing to enforce laws against housing discrimination. Conservatives 
knock current Democratic state Attorney General Bill Lockyer for allegedly 
failing to enforce some anti-affirmative action provisions of the 1996 
Proposition 209.

Now Ashcroft is sending his DEA agents after AIDS patients on pot and 
directs other DEA officers to go after doctors in assisted suicide cases in 

Both actions run counter to the clear wishes of voters. Yes, Californians 
three years ago rejected an initiative to allow assisted suicide. But they 
passed Proposition 215 by a wide margin in 1996, trying to legalize medical 
use of marijuana whenever doctors recommend it. And Oregon voters in 1998 
opted to allow doctors to help terminally ill patients end their lives, if 
that's what the patients want.

So the will of the voters doesn't mean much to the Bush administration, in 
spite of its supposed stance on states' rights. For Ashcroft, states' 
rights apparently go no farther than allowing racial discrimination in some 

So his agents flouted California law by uprooting and confiscating 400 
marijuana plants from the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center in West 
Hollywood, also hauling off computers containing names, addresses and 
medical histories of the center's 960 member patients.

Earlier, other agents took 5,000 personal medical records of pot-using 
patients from the files of Dr. Marion Fry's California Medical Research 
Center in the El Dorado County town of Cool.

THE rationale for both raids was a June ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court 
against the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club, which claimed that a combination 
of medical necessity and Proposition 215 justified its continued operation 
despite a federal court injunction ordering it to close.

The implication of that ruling is that federal decisions proclaiming 
marijuana a dangerous substance overrule any state action to legalize pot 
for any reason. Besides California, Arizona, Oregon, Washington, Maine, 
Colorado, Nevada and the District of Columbia all have tried to legalize 
medical use of the weed.

Doesn't matter, say Ashcroft and Bush. "I think they care about states' 
rights when it serves their political ends," Erwin Chemerinsky, a 
University of Southern California law professor, told a reporter. "But I 
think that's been true throughout American history."

And politicians' attitudes about states' rights don't often matter much to 
ordinary citizens. But thousands of medical-pot patients now fear they 
might be prosecuted because their medical records have been taken. 
Thousands more with ailments from AIDS to migraine headaches know their 
records might be confiscated in the next raid, even if they're in full 
compliance with Proposition 215 and any local medical- pot guidelines.

Even San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan's declaration that 
his city would be a sanctuary for medical pot users is likely meaningless 
in the face of Ashcroft's policy. "They know they're breaking the federal 
law," Richard Meyer, spokesman for the DEA's San Francisco office, has 
said. "Our job is to enforce the federal drug laws."

The upshot is that the days of easy access to medical marijuana may soon be 
over for most Californians who depend on it. That apparently will be true 
as long as the Bush administration stays in office, no matter what voters 
may think or do.
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