Pubdate: Fri, 21 Feb 2003
Source: Tri-Valley Herald (CA)
Copyright: 2003 MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
Author: Josh Richman, Staff Writer


House Members' Bill Seeks To Give A Medical Defense

Three California members of Congress are preparing a bipartisan bill
to let medical marijuana users, growers and providers protect
themselves from federal conviction -- a bill sure to face an uphill

Reps. Sam Farr, D-Carmel; Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma; and Dana
Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, are "putting together a bill that
would basically say that in states that have medical marijuana
statutes, you are able to use as a defense that you were in possession
or distributing ... marijuana for medical reasons," said Rochelle
Dornatt, Farr's chief of staff.

"If you would present that evidence and the jury agrees, you would be
found not guilty," she said; if a jury remained unconvinced the intent
was medicinal, a defendant would still be convicted under the
Controlled Substances Act. "The idea is that juries need to know
whether you were doing something you believed was lawful."

Dornatt said the bill was inspired in part by the recent federal
convictions of medical marijuana growers Ed Rosenthal of Oakland and
Bryan Epis of Chico. Farr was also concerned about last year's Drug
Enforcement Administration raid of the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical
Marijuana cooperative near Santa Cruz within his district.

"He's become close to them and feels they run a very tight ship, a
very clean operation," Dornatt said. "He was very upset to see agents
come in and upset the clinic and destroy the marijuana plants."

The bill won't move easily, Dornatt said: "Given the current
conservative makeup of Congress, and a Supreme Court decision that
weighed against medical marijuana, passing this bill would be a sea

But she said supporters "will try to do little things daily that will
help build a critical mass of support -- just one more co-sponsor per
day, or one more conversation with a colleague, or one more visit by
constituents to their representative. Eventually, these smaller steps
will result in a current that will help change many minds."

Farr was in Sacramento on Wednesday accepting thanks from Rosenthal's
and Epis' families. Also present were some federal jurors who
convicted Rosenthal but later regretted doing so, claiming they were
duped by a system that didn't give them the whole story of Rosenthal's
protection by state and local laws.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer attended, too."I support
Congressman Farr's bipartisan effort to change federal law so that all
the facts would be before a jury," he said later Wednesday.

"I think many people are offended by the lack of due process
associated with the Rosenthal conviction. It seems to me to be just
fundamental fairness to allow his Proposition 215 defense to have been
presented to the jury," Lockyer said.

MDULRohrabacher's chief of staff Rick Dykema said this bill isn't as
far-reaching as one penned in 2001 by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., and
co-sponsored by Rohrabacher. That would have moved marijuana to a
less-restricted list within the Controlled Substances Act, and would
have made medical use federally legal in states with their own medical
marijuana laws.

The Frank bill -- the latest of many similar ones he has authored --
was never even reviewed in committee, Dykema said. "Often ideas have
to go many Congresses before they get enacted. We recognize this is a
difficult situation. As long as most states don't have medical
marijuana laws, generally their congressmen are not going to want to
be on record supporting something like this."

Rohrbacher is bucking most of his party on this issue because "he
wants to support his constituents ... and not have the federal
government interfering with the wishes of the people of California,"
Dykema said, adding the congressman also draws upon his personal
experience of a few years ago.

"He had a situation in which he thought he might've been able to help
his own mother, who had gone through a difficult time in which she
wasn't eating," Dykema said; some patients use marijuana to stimulate
appetite. "It turned out she was able to recover from the wasting
without it, but he was still concerned that even though Californians
had voted for medical marijuana, he was facing a situation where he
might not have been able to legally obtain it for his mother."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Derek