Pubdate: Thu, 17 Oct 2002
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Author: Peter Rowe


Mysteries and Guidelines

Steve McWilliams, the medical marijuana activist, is more provocateur than 
politician. The San Diegan has smoked a pile of prescription pot - 
sometimes on City Hall's steps.

So perhaps his judgment has been dulled by doobies.

But what's the Bush administration's excuse for its contradictory 
reasoning? While running for president, then-Gov. Bush was asked about 
medical marijuana. "I believe each state can choose that decision as they 
so choose," he said.

California, then, would appear to be Bush's Exhibit A. In 1996, the voters 
overwhelmingly approved Proposition 215, clearing the way for doctors to 
prescribe pot.

Last Friday, though, McWilliams was arrested for growing marijuana for 

"The DEA is not singling these people out," Donald Thornhill Jr., a DEA 
spokesman, told the Union-Tribune's Jeff McDonald and Marisa Taylor. "We're 
just enforcing the law."

Would that be the state law that Candidate Bush said should govern this 
issue? Or the federal law that President Bush now insists is paramount?

Mysteries and guidelines

If Proposition 215 runs afoul of federal statutes, it also violates common 
sense. While it clearly intended to allow patients the right to possess and 
use marijuana, the law raised more questions than the first chapter of an 
Agatha Christie mystery.

Where were these ailing people supposed to shop for marijuana?

How much could they possess?

Oh, and by the way, who should receive an Rx for THC? Soon after 
Proposition 215's passage, McWilliams showed me his list of pot-worthy 
ailments. As I recall, it ranged from cancer - marijuana has been used to 
ease the nausea that accompanies chemotherapy - to "bad day at work."

Last year, San Diego established a task force to answer these questions. 
This body includes doctors, lawyers and cancer survivors. For awhile it 
included McWilliams, but he resigned this summer.

"This was his issue," said Juliana Humphrey, a lawyer and the task force's 
chair. "But once he got into a government arena, Steve didn't know what to do."

If the task force was similarly confused, it found its way, slowly. Members 
paused often to consult with the City Attorney's Office and members of the 
Police Department's narcotics unit. Yesterday, all these deliberations 
resulted in a series of recommendations, delivered to a City Council 

But why bother if Washington is determined to declare Proposition 215 null 
and local implementation void?

"I think this makes it even more important that we have guidelines," 
Humphrey said. "Our residents need to know where our police and our city 
government stand."

Making a federal case

Although McWilliams left the task force, his cooperative still followed 
that group's recommendations. His was a small operation of roughly 25 
plants. Surely, no one would make a federal case over it.

Wrong. The feds exhumed a 1999 case, in which police seized 448 plants from 
McWilliams' cooperative. Local prosecutors, no doubt aware of Proposition 
215's inherent contradictions, had declined to prosecute.

The feds, though, seized on that '99 bust to threaten McWilliams with a 
minimum five-year prison term. This isn't about justice; it's about 
muzzling an advocate.

"This guy is violating the law, and he's flaunting it," the DEA's Thornhill 
said. "He brought this whole thing on himself."

This, from an administration that claims to support states' rights. If 
McWilliams was so confused, I'd chalk it up to too many joints. But what 
are the feds smoking?
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart