Pubdate: Wed, 18 Sep 2002
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2002 San Francisco Examiner
Author: Martha Mendoza, Associated Press


SANTA CRUZ -- Calling Santa Cruz a "sanctuary" from federal authorities, 
medical marijuana advocates -- joined by city leaders -- passed out pot to 
about a dozen sick and dying people Tuesday at City Hall.

"Santa Cruz is a special place, and today we're letting the world know how 
compassionate we can be," said Mayor Christopher Krohn. "We're taking a stand."

More than 1,000 community members jammed into the garden-like courtyard for 
a supportive demonstration during the giveaway.

Several people in the crowd lit marijuana cigarettes, but it was mostly an 
alcohol- and drug-free gathering, which was what organizers requested.

"Please do not confuse our message. Our message is not about defiance, our 
message is about peaceful assembly," said Valerie Corral.

The enthusiastic crowd included many pet dogs, a pet snake, dancers, 
drummers, and protesters holding signs including: "DEA Go Away" and "U.S. 
Out Of Santa Cruz."

No law enforcement was present, except for a helicopter without clear 
markings that hovered above the event for almost an hour. Local officials 
did not know who was inside the helicopter.

Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Richard Meyer said he would not 
confirm nor deny that it was an agency helicopter.

Meyer did say he was appalled by the event, and feared that the community 
was sending a dangerous message to its children.

"Marijuana is an illegal drug in this country," he said.

But Mike Corral, who helped distribute the marijuana, said the only message 
sent Tuesday was that "marijuana is medicine."

Marijuana is illegal as a medicine or as a recreational drug under federal 
law. But state law, and county and city ordinances, say it's legal if 
recommended by a doctor.

In Santa Cruz and many California communities, local law enforcement works 
closely with growers and distributors who help sick people obtain 
marijuana. Krohn and his colleagues didn't handle the marijuana, but stood 
in solidarity with the clinic workers and users.

The City Hall pot distribution comes less than two weeks after DEA agents 
arrested the owners of a local pot farm and confiscated 130 plants that had 
been grown for use as medicine at the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana.

Santa Cruz Police Chief Steve Belcher said his officers work closely with 
WAMM, and that they did not plan to arrest registered, legitimate members 
picking up their medicine.

However, he said, "This is not going to be a smoke-out at City Hall."

People who show up to smoke pot for fun, without a doctor's recommendation, 
could face arrest, Belcher said.

There was no official city sponsorship of the event. Council members and 
medical marijuana advocates simply acted on their own in a public space, 
said City Attorney John Barisone.

Hal Margolin, who said he suffers chronic back pain, said he was relieved 
to receive his weekly marijuana dose. He said he smokes between 18 and 22 
puffs a week in lieu of painkillers.

"We don't buy it, we don't sell it, we don't ship it in interstate commerce 
and we don't give it to children," he said.

Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington also allow 
marijuana to be grown and distributed to people with a doctor's 
prescription. But the DEA has focused its raids on medical marijuana 
growers and distributors in California.

Community members in this liberal community repeatedly have supported 
medical marijuana. In 1992, 77 percent of Santa Cruz voters approved a 
measure ending the prohibition of medical marijuana. Four years later, 
state voters approved Proposition 215, allowing marijuana for medicinal 
purposes. And in 2000, the city council approved an ordinance allowing 
medical marijuana to be grown and used without a prescription.
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