Pubdate: Sat, 29 Oct 2005
Source: San Mateo County Times, The (CA)
Copyright: 2005 ANG Newspapers
Author: Josh Richman, Staff Writer
Cited: Green Aid
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


SAN FRANCISCO -- About 50 medical marijuana activists rallied under 
Wednesday's leaden skies near the United Nations Plaza farmer's 
market, wielding a bullhorn and picket signs to demand that federal 
officials act on a formal request to loosen the drug's ban.

This weekend, "Guru of Ganja" Ed Rosenthal of Oakland hosted a 
"Wonders of Cannabis" festival in Golden Gate Park featuring 
joint-rolling contests and an appearance by comedian and noted stoner 
Tommy Chong.

Mixed messages, some drug policy experts say sadly.

"Sometimes I think cannabis activists are their own worst enemies," 
said University of California, Berkeley public policy professor 
Robert MacCoun. "They rely too heavily on a 1960s countercultural 
playbook, but it's precisely that kind of association that inflames opponents."

Rosenthal insists McCoun and other critics miss the point: The Bay 
Area supports medical marijuana, and the ease with which the region 
has assimilated it should be a model for the rest of the nation.

"It's not like we're trying to be far out, we're just appealing to a 
rainbow," he said. "Marijuana is the one issue that crosses gender, 
age, ethnic and political lines. There's only one group that's 
opposed to marijuana and that's the criminal justice system. It's fat 
in the budget for them and they don't want to lose it."

Part of the festival's proceeds benefits Green Aid, a medical 
marijuana legal defense and education fund that's defraying legal 
costs for defendants including Rosenthal himself, as he appeals his 
2003 federal conviction and one-day jail sentence for growing marijuana.

Besides Chong, other guests include policy heavyweights such as 
Marsha Rosenbaum, the Drug Policy Alliance's West Coast director, 
politicos such as San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, and an 
array of medical-marijuana lawyers. That said, "we think it's going 
to be a really fun festival," Rosenthal added. "I'm known for my parties."

Methods may vary so long as the goal is the same, said Bruce Mirken, 
the Marijuana Policy Project's communications director, who speaks 
Sunday at Rosenthal's event. "What we're seeing is the sign of a true 
grassroots movement where, frankly, you can't control people."

Federal drug-war leaders paint drug policy reform -- particularly 
marijuana reform -- as an insidious, well-funded and carefully 
orchestrated plot, Mirken said. Actually, it's "a very disparate 
collection of folks from all corners of society who've come to the 
honest conclusion that our current marijuana laws make no sense," he insisted.

"If this were a great, disciplined conspiracy, there probably 
wouldn't be a 'giant rolling contest' -- I'm willing to bet no poll 
or focus group has tested that as an effective method of reaching the public."

Mirken said his own organization strives for a "straight-laced and 
buttoned-down approach" so as to shatter stereotypes and emphasize 
facts. "But in any mass movement you've got people with different 
attitudes, different styles, different approaches. And let's face it, 
the Bay Area is not a community that does straight-laced really well."

As for his participation in Rosenthal's event, "part of what any 
organization needs to do is reach out to the people who are 
interested in your issue," Mirken said. "We do want to reach out to 
those folks even if the event itself is not necessarily the kind of 
thing we ourselves would organize. Even at a lighthearted event, 
we're hoping there's an opportunity to address some serious issues."

Perhaps foremost among those issues is how to proceed with national 
efforts to change marijuana policy.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June squashed activists' and patients' best 
hope of judicial relief by upholding the federal ban. In a case 
brought partly by an Oakland patient, the court found medical 
marijuana activity even occurring entirely within California's 
borders and with no money changing hands still affects the overall 
national market for marijuana, and so falls within Congress' 
constitutional reach to regulate.

Nine days after the Supreme Court ruling, the House of 
Representatives voted 264-161 against a bipartisan amendment to bar 
spending federal tax dollars to prosecute patients and caregivers in 
states with medical marijuana laws. Marijuana advocates noted the 
amendment got 13 votes more than it had a year earlier; it still fell 
57 votes short of the 218 it needed to pass.

The latest, bipartisan iteration of a perennial House bill to carve 
out an exception in federal law for states to allow medical marijuana 
was introduced in May. It was referred to the House Energy and 
Commerce Committee's health subcommittee -- chaired by Rep. Nathan 
Deal, R-Ga. -- where it has languished without action like its many 

And neither this Republican administration nor its Democratic 
predecessor has shown any interest in making the administrative 
decision to move marijuana to a less restrictive schedule of the 
Controlled Substances Act, thus acknowledging and allowing its medical use.

Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access in 2002 helped petition the 
Department of Health and Human Services and the Drug Enforcement 
Administration to reschedule marijuana. HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt at 
his Senate confirmation hearing in January said the department's 
review would be done by August.

That didn't happen, so activists gathered Wednesday outside HHS 
offices in seven cities. In Washington, they brought Leavitt notice 
of their intent to sue; in San Francisco, they rallied in U.N. Plaza.

"We're hoping this has an effect on D.C., although not much seems to 
move them," said ASA legal campaign director Kris Hermes.

ASA campaign director Caren Woodson was one of two representatives 
who met Wednesday with HHS regional director Calise Munoz.

"She said, 'I have communicated all of your concerns'... so Leavitt 
is hearing the message, which is a success as far as I'm concerned," 
Woodson said.

"The battle continues, and I feel the voices are getting louder and 
louder... The walls are going to tumble, at some point." 
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