Pubdate: Tue, 25 Nov 2003
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Los Angeles Times
Author: Patt Morrison
Cited: Drug Enforcement Administration ( )
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Opinion)


There were moments yesterday when I had to keep looking around me --
at the desk with the federal judge sitting way up there, at the Great
Seal of the United States etched into the green marble, at the
blue-blazered federal marshals -- to remind myself where I was, and
what I was doing there: This wasn't an awards ceremony, it was a
criminal sentencing for a felon.

Through Judge A. Howard Matz's courtroom have come cases of
prostitution, bribery, Rampart lies, stolen dope, crooked lawmen and a
lawsuit over Britney Spears and roller skates. Many words have been
used to describe the felons who have stood where defendant Scott Imler
stood yesterday, but the words I heard yesterday weren't words I'm
used to hearing about a criminal -- and especially not from the judge
who was about to sentence him.

"There's a word called 'mensch' that applies to who you are," Matz
told him. "A truly admirable personality." As I said, I had to keep
telling myself -- this is a sentencing, not a Scott Imler Day ceremony.

Imler is the father, the co-author, of Proposition 215, the measure
that legalized the medical use of marijuana. Eight other states have
such laws, and all of them are in conflict with federal law, which
absurdly puts marijuana right up there with heroin and crack as a
Schedule I drug -- as dangerous as they come.

If you want some comparison, try this: morphine, methamphetamine --
speed -- and OxyContin, said to be Rush Limbaugh's narcotic siren, are
only rated Schedule II.

With the blessing of the city of West Hollywood and Los Angeles County
Sheriff Lee Baca, Imler ran the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center.
It was a tight ship -- none of this scribbling of doctors'
recommendations on cocktail napkins. Patients had to have legit
letters from real doctors, and renew them regularly. There was a
24-hour hotline for cops who wanted to check whether they'd nabbed a
recreational toker or a cancer patient. There were photo IDs of the
CRC's patients, who numbered nearly a thousand. Some of them were in
court yesterday, cramming the benches along with clergymen in notched

The CRC was a textbook how-to case for Proposition 215, and yet in
October 2001, a month after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Drug Enforcement
Administration busted the club, and arrested Imler and two colleagues
for violating federal law.

With the threat of being charged as a racketeer and a dope dealer and
maybe worse, Imler and the center's vice president and treasurer,
Jeffrey Farrington and Jeffrey Yablan, pleaded guilty to maintaining a
drug establishment, and hoped that the judge would be more thoughtful
than the DEA.

He was. Matz paged through letter after letter that heaped praise upon
praise for the guilty man and his two colleagues. A mayor wrote one.
Two state senators. A Methodist leader. Imler's attorney, Ronald Kaye,
spoke with a quaver in his voice about the "honor" of representing
such a man.

"I'm not going to say I've never gotten letters as important as
these," Matz said, "but I've never gotten letters more important than
these." The words the judge had for the DEA, albeit carefully parsed
within the iron palings of federal law, were stinging. "I think this
entire prosecution was badly misguided. Given the huge scope of
federal jurisdiction and the great prevalence of crime in our
community," this case "baffles me, disturbs me, but that's [the DEA's]

Matz gave each man the most lowball sentence he could -- a year's
probation, and community service. He'd tried to sentence Imler to six
months' probation, but the fellow from the federal probation
department stood up in the front row and told the judge quietly that
yes, your honor, it has to be a year minimum. So a year it was.

On Monday, Imler will undergo surgery at the City of Hope for lung
cancer. The prosecution suggested that his condition could be dealt
with in federal prison, but Matz swatted that down: "For someone to
say this is not an extraordinary impairment suggests to me that person
has had no experience with cancer -- not as patient, a friend, a
caregiver, or in any human way."

Two things are running headlong into each other here, and people like
Scott Imler are not the only ones being caught in the collision. All
of us are getting it in the shorts.

The first is states' rights versus federal law. The Bush
administration seems to like states' rights well enough when it agrees
with them -- like Big Daddy laws requiring women to put in 24 hours of
"reflection" before getting an abortion, or revving up coastal oil
drilling off California despite 30 years of unmistakable public
ferocity on the subject.

The administration jumped into bed with oil companies and engine
makers to block cleaner fuel conversion rules in Southern California,
saying we can't make laws stricter than federal ones. [Fine -- if
they'll breathe our air, I'll live by their rules.] Arnold
Schwarzenegger and Dianne Feinstein just faced down the feds so
California can go ahead with its stricter rules for gunk-spewing small
engines like the ones on lawnmowers and boats.

And when it comes to ranking marijuana as more dangerous than
morphine, never mind that the government contradicts itself -- Matz
cited a study commissioned by the White House that "cautiously
endorsed the medical use of marijuana." Obviously the DEA doesn't have
copies of the report lying around in its coffee-break rooms.

Which brings up the other head-on collision: that great oxymoron,
political science -- what happens when politicians make their own science.

The world's experts are virtually unanimous that global warming is
real and a threat -- but Congress and the Bush administration don't
believe in it, so they won't fight what they don't believe exists.

The pesticide DDT has caused untold damage to the natural world, and
its ban has helped make amends, but House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of
Texas, a former exterminator, has said it's not harmful, and even
wanted to make it legal again.

The Bush administration has been accused of playing fast and loose
with information on government Web sites about breast cancer and
abortion, to suit its anti-abortion agenda. And there was the North
Carolina lawmaker and amateur ob-gyn who argued that women who are
raped can't get pregnant. "The facts are that people who are raped --
who are truly raped -- the juices don't flow, the body functions don't
work." (He said that in the last half-dozen years of the 20th century,
by the way.) And of course in the same decade of the same century, the
Kansas Board of Education banned the teaching of evolution, the age of
the Earth, the Big Bang and plate tectonics. It reversed itself about
two years ago, thus perhaps proving that human brains do evolve, after

I spent some time with Scott Imler at his cannabis club a few years
ago, when Proposition 215 was in the wind. I went there as a
columnist, not as a client, although I could have -- I'd had
undiagnosed glaucoma since I was a teenager, and by the time they
caught it, no drops or pills could keep it in check, and in the few
weeks before my surgery, my doctor told me to smoke marijuana every
day. It was like working in an ice cream store -- sounds like a dream
come true at first, but pretty soon, and I mean soon, you can't stand
the stuff.

Steven Jay Gould, the Harvard paleobiologist, smoked marijuana to keep
down the nausea from chemotherapy. Lyn Nofziger, the World War II
veteran and first-string Reagan loyalist, supported medical marijuana,
after it was the only thing that relieved his daughter's pain from
cancer. Bill Lockyer, the state attorney general, came out in support
of medical marijuana after his mother and sister died of leukemia, and
it "seemed odd" to him that "a doctor could give them morphine but
couldn't give them marijuana."

Behind me in court yesterday, a couple of men were whispering. They
were hoping that Arnold -- Gov. Schwarzenegger -- will "come down on
our side of this. We know he's tried the recreational kind."
Schwarzenegger versus the DEA -- now that I'd pay Saturday-night movie
ticket prices to see.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin