Pubdate: Sun, 08 Jun 2003
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2003, The E.W. Scripps Co.
Author: Thomas D. Elias
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Bush, George)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal -Canada)
Note: Thomas D. Elias is the author of "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The 
Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It."


There was bound to be a backlash against the spate of actions by the Bush 
administration against the will of California's voting majority, ranging 
from challenges to the state's ability to set its own smog standard to a 
steady undermining of the 1996 Proposition 215, which aimed to legalize 
medical marijuana. The reaction has begun.

Predictably, the first moves against Bush policies come from two areas that 
have long been among the state's most freewheeling and left-leaning, Santa 
Cruz County and the city of Arcata on the north coast.

In Arcata, local action aims at the federal Patriot Act, which has never 
been used in that city. Passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror 
attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, the law allows many forms of 
surveillance and permits indefinite custody on vague anti-terror grounds. 
It even requires bookstore owners and librarians to hand over information 
on patrons' reading habits on demand.

Arcata, which has long had a "foreign policy" featuring City Council 
resolutions against global warming and the invasion of Iraq, this spring 
forbade its top nine city officials from complying voluntarily with any 
federal request for information on citizens under the Patriot Act. The 
penalty: a $57 fine for each offense. The only exceptions would be if 
officials first asked the City Council's permission to comply with requests 
from federal authorities.

The ban on voluntary action made Arcata unique among scores of cities and 
counties around America that have formally protested what they see as 
infringements on individual liberty contained in the 342-page Patriot Act.

Santa Cruz County took a unique action of its own. Already out front in the 
battle over medical marijuana because of its sponsorship of a cooperative 
and its distribution of the weed to medical users from the steps of City 
Hall last year, the county has filed a lawsuit seeking to halt all federal 
raids on local users of medical marijuana and those who grow plants for them.

No locality has ever won a court order preventing federal agents from 
enforcing federal law in its jurisdiction. Plenty have tried. Southern 
states and cities wanted to stave off Reconstruction policies giving former 
slaves the right to vote. Northern cities, counties and states tried to 
avoid sending runaway slaves back to their owners under terms of the 
Fugitive Slave Act during the 1850s. The federal government often backed 
off when the locals made their strong feelings clear, but federal law 
eventually won out in every case until it was changed.

Are there parallels between the refusal of many cities and states to comply 
with the Fugitive Slave Act and the refusal of Santa Cruz County to comply 
with federal laws that make even the medical use of marijuana illegal? One 
parallel, of course, is that Canada's laws are the opposite of America's 
today, as they were then. Slavery was illegal in Canada 150 years ago, and 
medical use of marijuana is sanctioned there now.

The other parallel: As medical marijuana users and supporters see it, both 
issues involve life and death. Runaway slaves knew their lives and not just 
their freedom were forfeited if they were returned. Some medical marijuana 
users insist pot is all that keeps them alive today, while others say they 
need the weed to make life bearable in the face of AIDS, some forms of 
cancer and other ailments.

"There is federal case law that says there is a fundamental constitutional 
right to control the circumstances of your own death," says Gerald Uelmen, 
the Santa Clara University law professor representing Santa Cruz and 
several cancer patients who use marijuana. "No one claims marijuana cures 
anything, but it is a palliative relieving the side effects of other 
treatments on patients in this lawsuit."

So Uelmen believes he has a chance eventually to win at the Supreme Court 
level and set a precedent for many other cities, counties and states across 
the country.

And he thinks the case is stronger than any presented 150 years ago against 
the Fugitive Slave Act. Even now, some counties refuse to capture and try 
users and growers of medical marijuana, just as many northern locales 
refused to capture and return fugitive slaves. But where slavery had 
interstate commerce implications that may have at least legally justified 
federal action, no such factor is apparent with the medical use of marijuana.

"We're talking about activity that is all very local here, and activity 
that goes on with local government approval," Uelmen said.

But odds are the Santa Cruz County lawsuit will fail, as did legal efforts 
to skirt enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act. Still, as the practice 
becomes more common and accepted, the likelihood increases for a change in 
the law. One bill before Congress would curb federal power over medical 
marijuana use in states that have voted to legalize it, as California did 
with Proposition 215. Another would simply declare federal policy invalid 
in those states.

Neither bill stands much chance of passage today, and with no cataclysm in 
the apparent offing to change the political climate, as the Civil War did 
to the Fugitive Slave Act, future prospects are uncertain at best.

Yet, the Santa Cruz lawsuit and the Arcata law both are shots across the 
bow of the Bush administration.

Both actions tell federal officials there are local governments vehemently 
opposed to what they are doing. With an election year coming up, it's for 
sure the administration will be testing the wind to see how widespread 
those feelings have become.