Pubdate: Wed, 05 Nov 2003
Source: Los Angeles Daily Journal (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Daily Journals
Author: Steve Kubby


On his way out the door, and after two previous vetoes, Gov. Gray
Davis has signed a controversial medical-marijuana bill, SB420

The new bill, a radical rewrite of the state1s medical-marijuana laws,
will take effect Jan. 1, 2004  much to the horror of the very
patients that the new law is supposed to protect.

The new law offers confidential photo identification cards, on a
voluntary basis, to document patients who are registered and
protected. However, the devil is in the details. For example, SB420
seems to allow prisoners and people on probation or parole to use
medical cannabis =8B but not quite. Under SB420, prisoners, defendants,
probationers and parolees may ask to use medical cannabis, but nothing
guarantees that they will be allowed to do so.

Why did drug-warrior Davis veto a needle-exchange bill but sign a
medical-marijuana bill? Is it because SB420 protects patients? Or is
it because it drastically reduces their rights under Proposition 215?
Davis apparently liked SB420 enough to sign it, even though it would
have become law without his signature. That worries California
medical-pot patients.

"Would you have a group of white supremacists enforcing
anti-discrimination laws? Because that1s what we have right here,"
said noted marijuana author and activist Ed Rosenthal of Oakland.

"I don1t believe that police, prosecutors or any part of the
criminal-justice system are stakeholders in making the policy
decisions regarding people1s health," Rosenthal added.

In 1996, voters passed Proposition 215, which enacted the state1s
Compassionate Use Act. Proposition 215 provided that medical-marijuana
possession required only a doctor1s note. The proposition neither
limited how much pot a patient could have nor specified where he or
she could get it.

Rosenthal and Dennis Peron, a driving force behind Proposition 215,
want to keep the simply written initiative as the people of California
passed it in 1996.

SB420 will result in varying possession limits in different cities and
counties. According to Rosenthal, varying limits mean that "there1s no
equal protection under the law. Does that mean in counties allowing
only six plants, that people are healthier there and need less medicine?"

Rosenthal also said that the new law is "constitutionally flawed
because it treats patients who use marijuana as medicine different
from other patients." No ID card or registry is mandated for people
using prescription painkillers, for instance.

"Marijuana is not a drug. A drug is something that1s manufactured, an
artifact of human intervention. Marijuana is an herb and should be
regulated just for purity the way other herbs are," said Rosenthal.

Sen. John Vasconcellos hotly disputes these accusations, especially
with respect to the six-plant limit on mature plants in SB420. "It1s a
floor, it1s not a ceiling =8B any local government can decide to
increase that amount," boasts Vasconcellos. However, nowhere does the
bill describe the plant limits as a "floor" or "minimum amount."

Although California has vowed to protect the identity of
medical-marijuana ID card holders, patients worry that U.S. drug
agents will seize any list that they can get their hands on and use it
as a hit list for arrests.

That is certainly what has happened so far. Each time that the Drug
Enforcement Administration has raided a medical-cannabis club, it has
seized applications, with patient names and physician contact
information. Whenever defense attorneys have asked courts to return
these lists, the agency has fought and has succeeded in keeping the

The feds already are targeting patients for as few as six plants. Just
this month, agents raided the homes of Sister Somaya in Los Angeles
and Travis Paulson in Oregon, even though they were in full compliance
with state laws.

As medical-pot attorney Bill Panzer recently told the Los Angeles
Times, SB420 is an "anti-medical marijuana law" that will "tread on
the doctor-patient relationship, put an unrealistic limit on some
patients most in need and embolden narcotics officers who might make
more arrests in some parts of the state."

Panzer knows what he is talking about. He helped write Proposition 215
and probably has defended more Proposition 215 patients successfully
than any other attorney in the state. If Panzer says that this is an
"anti-medical-marijuana law," then one should believe him. He is in
the trenches every day, defending patients against state and federal

On the day before SB420 was to come to a vote, Attorney General Bill
Lockyer had a meeting with Vasconcellos and told him that the bill
would not pass unless it was revised to limit possession to eight
ounces and six mature and 12 immature plants. Lockyer argued that
because no federal guidelines existed, SB420 would have to create new
guidelines arbitrarily.

However, federal medical-marijuana patients, like George McMahon and
Elvy Musika, will attest that doctors have set a standard of eight to
12 pounds per year and that this is what the U.S. government gives to
each of its medical-marijuana patients.

Lockyer and Vasconcellos could have taken the position that doctors
should set the limits, because that is what the feds do. Instead, they
lied about the federal guidelines and created their own limits, based
on politics, not medicine. The last-minute and arbitrary nature of
those limits has angered patients, who feel betrayed by Lockyer and

One thing is clear: SB420 will criminalize and endanger thousands of
patients who are well outside the six-plant/eight-ounce limit and do
not have sufficient support from their doctors to challenge the
statewide limit.

Laws enacted through the initiative process may be changed only
through the initiative process. The Legislature may pass only laws
that do not contradict an initiative. Proposition 215 set a
medical-marijuana possession limit, and that limit is "for personal
medical use."

The state Supreme Court affirmed this quantity limit in People v.
Mower, 28 Cal.4th 457 (2002). There, the court clearly held that the
only quantity limit or requirement in Proposition 215 is "for personal
medical use." SB420 plainly contradicts, and even repeals, this
quantity limit.

Suppose a patient has 16 ounces and possesses it "for personal medical
use," even though he will not be able to use up his supply, say,
within two years. SB420 will make this conduct criminal, even though
it is not criminal under Proposition 215.

The Compassionate Use Act was easy for voters and juries to
understand. Why punish patients with all these new regulations and
unrealistic limits? Bona fide medical-cannabis patients need a bill
that protects patients and forces police to uphold the Compassionate
Use Act as it was passed in Proposition 215.

Instead, they got a law that barters away their rights and creates new
crimes that will be charged against medical-cannabis patients.

Steve Kubby is national director of the American Medical Marijuana
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