Pubdate: Sun, 30 Oct 2005
Source: Tri-Valley Herald  (Pleasanton, CA)
Copyright: 2005sANG Newspapers
Author: Josh Richman
Cited: Americans For Safe Access
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Drug Policy Alliance Staff)


SAN FRANCISCO - About 50 medical marijuana activists rallied under
Wednesday's leaden skies near the United Nations Plaza farmers 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 MacCoun 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
today at Rosenthal's event. What we're seeing is the sign of a true
grass-roots 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

"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

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

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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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin