Pubdate: Tue, 15 May 2001
Source: Press Democrat, The (CA)
Copyright: 2001 The Press Democrat
Author: Chris Smith, Ucilia Wang
Bookmark: (Oakland Cannabis Court Case)


Decision Likely To Force State Groups To Move Away From Distribution,
Help Patients Grow Their Own 

Monday's U.S. Supreme Court setback for marijuana-as-medicine clubs
likely will have little impact on the North Coast and throughout
California, but it could encourage the clubs to cut back on distributing
the leafy drug and to focus more on teaching clients to grow their own.

The ruling does not order states or local governments to stop allowing
the use of marijuana, a federally outlawed substance, as medicine.
Rather, the ruling declares marijuana buyers' clubs may face federal
charges if they distribute the drug.

"We're not overly worried about it," said Mary Pat Beck of Cazadero, a
member of Sonoma Alliance for Medical Marijuana. The group works with
four Sonoma County groups that grow marijuana for people who are ill.

Beck noted the ruling does not change the state law allowing seriously
ill Californians to possess or grow their own marijuana for use as
medicine. Although clubs and cooperatives that grow marijuana for
patients are now theoretically more at risk of federal prosecution, Beck
said she doubts U.S. drug officers will make a priority of busting such

In Mendocino County, the director of the Ukiah Cannabis Club, Marvin
Lehrman, said his group will continue to get marijuana to patients. "I
was disappointed but not surprised" by the decision, he said. He doubted
the federal government will go on the offensive against cannabis clubs.

"I hope they don't want to do that or else it will be revolution," he

Monday's decision matters only to California, where voters passed a
medical marijuana initiative -- Proposition 215 -- in 1996, and to eight
other states that allow some seriously ill and injured people to use
marijuana to relieve symptoms. For those nine states, the ruling
solidifies the confusion that's implicit when the federal government
calls a substance an illicit drug and a state rules it can be useful

The ruling "points out the anomaly of a state initiative which purports
to legalize something that is clearly illegal under federal law," said
Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullins. "Every time (users of
marijuana as medicine) do what they're doing, they're violating federal
law," he said.

Mullins, who earlier this year lost a significant case in which he
sought drug convictions against the owner of a medicinal marijuana
nursery in Petaluma, said the Supreme Court decision does not affect
state or local policies.

What it does do, he said, is serve as one more reminder that Sacramento
needs to grapple with the confusion and to pass laws that establish
clear guidelines on how qualified patients can obtain marijuana. "I
guess I'm sounding like a broken record," Mullins said. "But legislation
should be passed, so everybody has some direction."

In Sacramento, Attorney General Bill Lockyer criticized the Supreme
Court for dictating to the state on a public health issue. "It is
unfortunate," he said in a statement, "that the court was unable to
respect California's historic role as a 'laboratory' for good public
policy, and a leader in the effort to help sick and dying residents who
have no hope for relief other than through medical marijuana."

He said he'll require some time to decide if he will make any
recommendations for new state laws.

The founder of the American Medical Marijuana Association, Steve Kubby,
said the only effect of the decision may be to encourage buyers' clubs
to protect themselves by moving away from distribution and instead
helping patients to cultivate their own pot. "In fact," he said from
Dana Point, "this decision is expected to create a huge boom in home

Advocates of medical marijuana in Mendocino County said the ruling may
empower the federal government to seek court injunctions against more
medical marijuana clubs, but it won't stop people from getting the drug.

David Nelson, attorney for the Ukiah Cannabis Club, said he is concerned
about the club's future, particularly given President Bush's recent
appointments of a conservative attorney general and a
punishment-favoring drug czar.

The ruling "took away the club's defense against any federal actions,"
he said. "But it will be a long process. Every time they shut one down,
another will pop up."

Mendocino County District Attorney Norman Vroman and Sheriff Tony Craver
said the ruling will not change how they enforce the state's medical
marijuana law.

"We are talking about people who are seriously ill. If it gives them
comfort to smoke a little pot, what the heck," Craver said. Vroman said
it won't be up to his office to decide what to do with the Ukiah club.

"The court decision says it's a violation of federal law" for a club to
distribute marijuana, Vroman said. "But I don't prosecute federal
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