Pubdate: Wed, 31 Jul 2002
Source: ABC News (US Web)
Copyright: 2002 ABC News
Author: Francine Vida
Bookmark: (Nevadans for Responsible Law 


San Francisco Voters To Decide If City Should Grow Marijuana

July 31 - Wayne Justmann already smokes marijuana daily to ease the pain of 
neuropathy. But now he wants to get it from a new supplier - the city of 
San Francisco.

Voters in one of the nation's most progressive cities will confront a 
unique ballot question in November. Should the city of San Francisco grow 
marijuana? The ballot measure is not the brain child of fringe radicals. It 
comes directly from the city's Board of Supervisors.

The San Francisco initiative is the latest skirmish in a growing fight 
between the federal government, which opposes allowing for medical uses of 
marijuana, and some states and cities, which want to carve out new ways of 
dealing with marijuana.

"If the federal government insists on standing in our way locally, we must 
take matters into our own hands and protect the lives of our community 
members and protect their right to access life-saving medicine," said city 
supervisor Mark Leno, the initiative's author.

'A Legitimate Concern'

One of those who Leno wants to protect is Justmann, 57, and an HIV- 
positive patient. Justmann smokes marijuana from a pipe to ease severe pain 
caused by neuropathy, a degenerative condition of the nervous system.

"I think it's a legitimate concern since we have a state law that says we 
have a right to use medical cannabis in California," said Justman, who has 
been active in San Francisco politics, especially with medical cannabis 
issues. "I'm a patient that's at the right place at the right time."

California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana use in 1996, 
but like other states that have permitted such use, it has had difficulty 
finding a way to distribute the drug to patients without the federal 
government's interference. After the Compassionate Use Act became law, many 
individuals opened up private distribution centers.

To buy marijuana legally, a person needs to have a doctor's permission and 
must obtain a card from the San Francisco Department of Health. So far, 
since the identification program was established in July 2000, 37,000 cards 
have been issued.

No Other Way?

Justmann is the founder and director of a marijuana center, the San 
Francisco Patients Cooperative. It's one of 72 medical cannabis clubs in 
California that sells the drug to patients who have their doctor's 
permission to use it.

"There are many people who are relying on centers to distribute cannabis. 
We don't know any other way to do it," he said.

But, because the sale and use of marijuana remains a crime in the eyes of 
the federal government, the Drug Enforcement Agency is taking action 
against many of the clubs throughout California.

"The problem is they are engaging in illegal activity. They are committing 
a crime," said Richard Meyer, public information officer for the San 
Francisco division of the DEA.

Federal law still prohibits cultivation, possession, and distribution of 
marijuana. The Supreme Court reiterated this position in a 2001 ruling. 
According to federal officials, state laws on medical marijuana use do not 
supercede federal drug laws.

'We Are Not Criminals'

The California State Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the 
possession and cultivation of marijuana is considered no more criminal than 
the possession and acquisition of a prescription drug. However, Leno said 
the problem now becomes finding ways to allow the patients access to the 
drug, and he hopes that if the legislation is passed the city can use some 
of its available land to grow the drug.

Justmann said he doesn't think it's right that he and the other patients 
are being treated as if they have done something wrong.

"We are not criminals, we are patients," he said.

Leno said he realizes that the establishment of the marijuana planting 
business could directly challenge the federal law, but he will continue to 
fight for it.

Still, the DEA plans to fight back.

"We'll take appropriate action when necessary," said Meyer.

Other States Fighting the Battle

July 31 - San Francisco is not alone in its pot struggle.

In Nevada, voters will decide on a system of legally distributing marijuana 
to patients for medical use at a lower-cost. Although terminally ill 
patients now have the right to use marijuana with a doctor's recommendation 
under the state's law, they are still having problems obtaining the drug.

The patients are either growing it themselves or turning to drug dealers on 
the streets, said Billy Rogers, a spokesperson from Nevadans for 
Responsible Law Enforcement.

"Right now, the way the law is, it's difficult for seriously ill people to 
get their medicine. We want to assure that those who need medical marijuana 
are able to get it."

As part of the Nevada marijuana initiative, Rogers said they also hope to 
make the state law less harsh by allowing adults to possess up to three 
ounces of marijuana as long as they keep it in their homes. The initiative 
would ban the drug in public places, and enforces the illegal distribution 
to minors.

"Most people think that's a colossal waste of tax dollars, more importantly 
that's a waste of law enforcement's time," said Rogers.

In Arizona, a medical marijuana initiative would create a registry card 
system for authorized marijuana users. If approved by voters, it also would 
establish a system for distribution of marijuana to these patients. Plus, 
the initiative would increase drug offender maximum sentences for crimes 
committed while on drugs by 50 percent.

And voters in Washington, D.C, may also get the chance to weigh in on 
medical marijuana use.

- -'s Francine Vida
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom