Pubdate: Fri, 27 Apr 2001
Source: Orange County Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2001, Orange County Weekly, Inc.
Author: Nick Schou


Alan Bock Says The Medical-marijuana War Is Over, And The Good Guys Won

Alan Bock may know more about pot than your average Rastafarian. As senior 
editorial writer for The Orange County Register, Bock has spent much of the 
past several years following the never-ending battle over Proposition 215, 
the medical-marijuana initiative approved by California voters in November 
1996. Bock covered the 1998 trials of David Lee Herrick and Marvin Chavez, 
co-founders of the Orange County Cannabis Co-op; despite the passage of 
Prop. 215, both were convicted of selling marijuana and sentenced to 
several years in prison. (Herrick's conviction was overturned after he 
spent two years in jail, and Chavez was released on bail last year, pending 
his appeal). Last month, Bock published Waiting to Inhale: The Politcs of 
Medical Marijuana (Seven Locks Press), a book on Prop. 215 and the 
medical-marijuana movement. And he recently returned from Washington, D.C., 
where he sat in the U.S. Supreme Court as justices heard arguments in a 
case involving the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Collective. Bock says the 
Supreme Court hearing convinced him that there are still conflicts between 
the five-year-old Prop. 215 and federal law, but that the war is over in 
California, and medical-marijuana advocates have won.

OC Weekly: The title of your book is Waiting to Inhale. Is the waiting over 
in California?

Alan Bock: In most jurisdictions in California, if you have a valid 
doctor's recommendation and a membership card in a cannabis cooperative, 
the police are not going to take you to jail. They may investigate to see 
whether your card is valid and create a certain amount of hassle, but they 
probably aren't going to charge you with possession. The main roadblock 
right now for patients is being able to find doctors who are willing to 
write prescriptions for medical marijuana. There are a few doctors in 
California who have not just been willing but eager to do this-but most aren't.

OC Weekly: Why?

Alan Bock: In part because the California Medical Association has been very 
conservative in its instructions to doctors on this issue. But the real 
reason is that a lot of doctors aren't aware of how well they are protected 
under state law. Right after Prop. 215 passed, former U.S. drug czar Barry 
McCaffrey threatened to take away licenses from doctors who wrote 
prescriptions for medical marijuana. But a group of doctors in San 
Francisco won a federal injunction against McCaffrey, so the federal 
government is now under a court order not to harass doctors who recommend 
cannabis in accordance with California law.

OC Weekly: Prop. 215 said cannabis should be made available to terminally 
ill patients as well as those suffering from "any other illness for which 
marijuana provides relief." Why haven't state officials written up a set of 
regulations for doctors that spell out the medical conditions for which 
they can prescribe cannabis?

Alan Bock: John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) has introduced several bills 
in Sacramento that would require the California Department of Health 
Services to set up a registry of patients who would be issued a card from 
the agency. The medical conditions outlined in those bills were more 
strictly defined than what was outlined in Prop. 215. But at every turn, it 
was obvious that the governor-first Pete Wilson, then Gray Davis-was going 
to veto the bill. So those bills never even left Sacramento.

OC Weekly: Cannabis clubs in San Francisco, Oakland, Humboldt and West 
Hollywood that popped up shortly after Prop. 215 passed are still going 
strong. Meanwhile, the Orange County Cannabis Co-op is long-gone. Does the 
responsibility for this rest with local law enforcement, cannabis 
activists, or both?

Alan Bock: Probably a little bit of both. A big part of the trouble in 
Orange County had to do with DA prosecutor Carl Armbrust, who handled both 
the Herrick and Chavez trials. During the Chavez trial, I spoke to Armbrust 
in the courtroom hallway for several hours. He was an old drug warrior on 
the verge of retirement. His last hurrah was to prove that this Prop. 215 
thing wasn't going to work. So he prosecuted Marvin. On the other hand, 
Armbrust did so only after a judge warned Chavez not to dispense any more 
marijuana through his co-op, which Chavez ignored. Of course, it was an 
undercover officer who got Chavez to do this, by begging him and pleading 
with him because "the pain" was so terrible. So Marvin did what the guy 
asked him to do; he shouldn't have. It may be that his only crime was 
compassion, but under the circumstances, it was not a wise move.

OC Weekly: Armbrust is out of the picture now; so are former OC Sheriff 
Brad Gates and District Attorney Mike Capizzi, both of whom campaigned 
vigorously against medical marijuana both before and after Prop. 215 became 
law. Are their replacements any better?

Alan Bock: I think it's important to note that there have not been any 
medical-marijuana prosecutions in Orange County since the Marvin Chavez 
trial. Neither DA Tony Rackauckas nor Sheriff Mike Carona is likely to make 
any statements in favor of a government-supervised program to implement 
Prop. 215, but they're probably even less eager to prosecute any more 
patients. Maybe through their silence on this issue, they are acceding to 
the unruly will of the people.

OC Weekly: That's a nice thought, but is the battle over medical marijuana 
really over?

Alan Bock: The battle over medical marijuana has been fought, and for the 
most part, it's been won. Now the main focus among the cannabis co-ops is 
teaching people how to grow marijuana. I know of a marijuana patch out in 
Victorville that serves eight patients. Two guys live there, and the others 
show up on the weekend to help grow the plants. That kind of stuff is going 
on all over the state right now. There is still a threat of federal law 
enforcement going after cannabis co-ops and large-scale medical-marijuana 
growers, but studies show that 90 percent of drug prosecutions are carried 
out at the state level. And California's law on this matter is pretty 
unambiguous: if you have a doctor's recommendation, you have the right to 
possess and cultivate cannabis. If you cultivate it for personal use and 
aren't transporting it or distributing it, then you shouldn't have any 
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