Pubdate: Fri, 15 Mar 2002
Source: Pueblo Chieftain (CO)
Copyright: 2002 The Star-Journal Publishing Corp.
Author: Martha Mendoza (AP)
Note: includes photo - San Francisco residents Taj Turner (left) and Mike 
Barnes protest last month outside the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco 
where Drug Enforcement Administration administrator Asa Hutchinson was 
delivering a speech about U.S. drug policy and how it impacts California.
Viewed at:


SAN FRANCISCO - "Liar! Liar!" came the voices from the crowd.

Drug Enforcement Administration chief Asa Hutchinson stopped short, caught 
midsentence. He had started by saying: "Science has told us so far there is 
no medical benefit for smoking marijuana . . ."

Hutchinson pushed on with his message, reiterating President Bush's newly 
aggressive anti-drug policy, which links casual drug use to terrorism and 
objects to state laws like California's that allow the medicinal use of 

Just hours before Hutchinson's appearance last month, federal agents - with 
no help from San Francisco police - seized more than 600 pot plants from a 
medicinal marijuana club. They also arrested the group's executive director 
and three suppliers, including pot guru Ed Rosenthal, author of "Ask Ed: 
Marijuana Law. Don't Get Busted."

The federal raids have angered and alarmed local officials in San Francisco.

On the day Hutchinson spoke, a half-dozen city officials joined a 
boisterous street protest against the DEA. Even District Attorney Terence 
Hallinan grabbed a bullhorn and criticized the raids, as demonstrators, 
some in wheelchairs and on crutches, chanted, "DEA, Go away!" and pot smoke 
wafted through the air.

Opponents of Washington's stand on marijuana said the raids may be a 
precursor to showdowns in at least seven other states that have also passed 
laws in conflict with the federal ban on pot.

"I think the goals here are to stomp out this emerging political movement 
once and for all," said Keith Stroup, director of the National Organization 
for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "The way they're trying to do that is to 
come into San Francisco, at the heart of the legalization movement, and 
arrest, prosecute and jail the major players."

DEA spokesman Richard Meyers in San Francisco countered: "You know, 
personally my heart goes out to someone who has cancer or AIDS, and I'm 
sure they're just trying to alleviate their pain, but federal law does not 
make a distinction between medical marijuana and marijuana, and the DEA has 
a commitment and duty to the public to enforce the law."

In recent months, federal agents have raided three other cannabis clubs in 
California, seizing a garden of marijuana grown for sick people in 
Hollywood and taking away the records of 5,000 medical marijuana users from 
a doctor's office near Sacramento.

But for nine months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last May that there 
is no medical exception to the federal law against marijuana, federal 
agents had avoided San Francisco.

Now that the United States is facing unprecedented challenges to homeland 
security, Hutchinson said the time is right to crack down on drugs.

"History teaches us that in a time of national emergency, and we have seen 
that since Sept. 11, a nation's moral values are clarified," he said during 
a recent debate with New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who advocates legalizing 

Under a law passed by California voters in 1996, marijuana clubs can 
dispense pot to people with cancer, AIDS or other chronic illnesses to 
relieve pain and nausea.

But the Supreme Court ruled that federal anti-drug laws supersede laws 
allowing medicinal marijuana in Alaska, California, Colorado, Hawaii, 
Maine, Nevada, Oregon and Washington.

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said DEA officials are being "asinine and 
disingenuous" when they say they cannot back off the federal law. He has 
gathered 25 co-sponsors for a bill to give states the right decide their 
own medical marijuana policies. But he conceded there is little chance the 
bill will even make it out of committee.

"It's going nowhere because politicians are afraid of being seen as soft on 
drugs," Frank said. "The people are way ahead of the politicians here."

As for Hutchinson, he said he was not surprised by his reception in San 

"Maybe it is not such a bang-up idea to defend our nation's drug policy in 
the city of San Francisco," he said, "which has such an extraordinary 
tradition of toleration toward drug use, from the popularity of the opium 
dens of the late 19th century to the drug culture thriving in the Haight 
Ashbury district of the '60s to the cannabis buyers club of the new century."
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