Pubdate: Thu, 23 May 2002
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2002 San Francisco Examiner
Author: Dan Evans, Of The Examiner Staff
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


In a green room in the Castro, 40 people of different races, ages and 
ailments meet every Friday to eat, socialize, watch movies and get stoned.

Even though state law allows sick people to smoke marijuana -- and our 
local health department and district attorney support the right for people 
who are ill to toke -- recent federal crackdowns have caused some of The 
City's medical marijuana clubs to shut their doors.

The pot clubs will not die; they will go underground, say activists.

Clubs will function such as the Castro group, an ultimate speakeasy where 
patients buy their drugs at places such as Dolores Park but meet at a 
central place to smoke it.

Californians Helping Alleviate Medical Problems (CHAMP), which opened the 
day before Californians approved Proposition 215 in 1996, stopped selling 
marijuana earlier this month.

It will continue, however, to provide a place for members to gather -- at 
least until the lease runs out at the end of the month.

Brother Wayne is the group's spiritual leader. He contracted HIV from a 
blood transfusion in 1982.

He smokes pot to relieve the pain caused from complications of the disease 
and the side effects of anti-viral medication.

During a recent meeting, the 53-year-old toker wore a green knit cap, large 
sunglasses and a latex glove on one hand.

His bones are so brittle from HIV drugs that he could break his hand 
picking up a folding chair.

"They will close all the other clubs and the crime rate will go up," he 
said, as the night's movie, "Reservoir Dogs," played in the background.

"I am a law-abiding citizen, but I will get someone to get (pot) from the 
park if I have to."

Wayne is similar to many of the patients there who seek aid from the 
intoxicating herb. He believes pot should be smoked in a group setting.

It's a way to keep the culture alive.

"Where else are they going to go?" asked Michael Barbitta, who runs the 
group. "When you have a chronic disease, you need to be around others to 
socialize. The clubs give that. The park doesn't."

There are problems with running a pot club social. Allowing pot to be 
smoked, even if CHAMP isn't selling it, constitutes running a drug house, 
Barbitta said.

There is also the matter of the $4,000 monthly rent.

With no income coming in from pot sales, and with many of CHAMP's members 
straddling the poverty line, finding future meeting places will be tough.

For now, the main room at CHAMP is a stoners' den. It looks much like a 
coffee shop, with comfortable tables and couches throughout, and popcorn 
and pretzels in little dishes on side tables.

Huge piles of steaming chicken wings wait on a table near a kitchenette for 
when the munchies hit.
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