Pubdate: Wed, 28 Dec 2005
Source: San Diego City Beat (CA)
Copyright: 2005 San Diego City Beat
Author: Kelly Davis
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


The Issues We Found Terribly Important

Some of the stories CityBeat took a special shine to in 2005:

Pot wars--While the city of San Diego did its best to embrace Prop. 
215 (the 1998 state law that allows people with a doctor's 
recommendation to use marijuana) by passing guidelines in 2002, this 
year county supervisors held fast to their belief that marijuana, 
even for medicinal use, is a bad, bad thing.

Last month, the supervisors decided to do something not even the most 
strident medical-marijuana opponent has attempted to do: overturn Prop. 215.

The county plans to file a lawsuit in federal court early in 2006, 
arguing that federal law--which says marijuana is illegal and has no 
medicinal value--trumps state law. California has the states'-rights 
argument on its side--that a state should be allowed to enact laws 
for the good of its population. If the county wins, it'll be a blow 
to federalism. If the state wins, perhaps it'll spur elected 
officials to better define Prop. 215 so medical marijuana users have 
a safe, affordable way to obtain marijuana.

You can't bring up medical marijuana without mentioning Steve 
McWilliams. San Diego's most eloquent voice on the issue committed 
suicide in the early hours of July 12. McWilliams, whose marijuana 
collective was raided by DEA agents in 2002, was facing prison time 
when he killed himself.

Compounding that, terms of his bail forbade him to use marijuana, 
leaving him genuinely in pain, the result of a serious motorcycle 
accident that left him with crippling migraines. Three years passed 
from the time he was denied use of cannabis up until his death.

Barbara MacKenzie, McWilliams' partner of seven years, though never a 
target of prosecution, was also denied use of marijuana as part of 
McWilliams' bail agreement.

Shortly after his death, all charges against McWilliams were dropped 
and MacKenzie is again allowed to use cannabis to suppress the pain 
of degenerative disc disease.

A former nurse, MacKenzie has picked up where McWilliams left off, 
working to educate others about the efficacy of medicinal marijuana.

In November, she sent out an e-mail announcing that California 
Congressman Sam Farr had introduced the Steve McWilliams Truth in 
Trials Act, a piece of legislation that says individuals prosecuted 
in federal court for possession of marijuana can introduce evidence 
that not only do they use marijuana for medical purposes, but also, 
in doing so, are following state law. Currently, medical marijuana 
patients are forbidden to defend themselves with evidence that they 
legitimately use marijuana for a medical condition under auspices of state law.

Questions need answers--This year we found out how difficult it is to 
get information from San Diego law enforcement when it comes to 
officer-involved shootings.

California has stringent laws governing the release of anything 
considered part of an officer's personnel file. And, both the San 
Diego police and county deputy sheriffs unions have sued to keep 
information away from the public.

No doubt it's painful for an officer to take a life, but it's painful 
for a family, too, when law-enforcement agencies keep the 
investigation into the shooting under wraps.

Nor will the family ever know whether revised training procedures 
were implemented as a result of the shooting.

Since he was shot and killed on April 4 by a San Diego police 
officer, Jacob Faust's family has struggled to get information, as 
has CityBeat, with little success.

After a routine traffic stop, police say they spotted what looked 
like a gun in the back pocket of the passenger seat of Faust's van. 
Officers say they asked Faust to get out of the car, and he resisted.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' review of the shooting offered this 
scenario: Faust was shot when he reached over to show an officer that 
the gun was a fake--a stage prop Faust, an actor and puppeteer, used 
in a show. We believe Faust didn't know that when he reached for the 
toy, a second officer stood behind him with his gun drawn.

Three shots killed the 25-year-old almost immediately.

CityBeat talked to Lynne Faust in late November. She said she's 
realized the only way to get a full account of the shooting is to 
file a lawsuit.

Through an attorney, the Fausts have seen portions of the police 
investigation, which, Lynne says, has only left them with more questions.

Goodbye needle exchange--In 2000, San Diego's needle-exchange program 
was deemed necessary by a task force of doctors and public-health 
experts in order to slow the spread of diseases like HIV and 
Hepatitis C that can be passed along through shared needles.

The Clean Syringe Exchange program began in 2002 with a grant-funded 
pilot program downtown, operated by the Family Health Centers of San 
Diego. Later, the program expanded to a North Park location where an 
RV would park for three hours one day a week where people could 
exchange dirty needles for clean ones and, if they wished, receive 
referrals for drug treatment and other social-service programs.

In order for a needle-exchange program to operate, local government 
must, every three weeks, declare a public-health state of emergency. 
On July 18, with a City Council of six, needle-exchange opponents Jim 
Madaffer and Brian Maienshein--in whose districts the program did not 
operate--voted against the state of emergency, effectively shutting 
the program down. An inaccurate editorial in the Union-Tribune said 
exchange of needles was continuing. James Dunford, who heads the 
program, said needle exchange ceased immediately after the vote and 
that the RV staff continued to hand out literature and make 
referrals. Dunford told CityBeat he hoped the program would be 
reinstated under a new mayor--Jerry Sanders has said he supports the 
clean-syringe program.

The hokey pokey--In a three-month period, animal-rights activists 
David Agranoff and Danae Kelley were sent to prison, then released, 
then sent back, and finally released.

The back-and-forth was the result of Agranoff and Kelley refusing to 
testify as part of a federal grand-jury investigation into an August 
2003 La Jolla arson fire believed to have been set by the extremist 
Earth Liberation Front, a group neither Agranoff nor Kelley claim to 
have any association with. The two were among at least 10 activists 
subpoenaed by federal prosecutors to testify; all were believed to 
have attended a Hillcrest lecture by animal-rights activist Rod 
Coronado hours after the fire. Coronado said he was at home in 
Arizona at the time of the fire, preparing for his trip to San Diego.

Despite the grand-jury investigation and a $100,000 award offered by 
the FBI, no one's been arrested or detained in connection with the 
fire. And, as of this writing, Kelley and Agranoff remain free and, 
like us, confused over what the whole thing was really about.

Living wage leverage--Passed on a 5-4 vote of the City Council, a 
living-wage ordinance eeked by before July's incredible shrinking 
City Council. City business interests hollered that such an 
ordinance--which boosts pay and provides health insurance for 
low-paid city workers like janitors and landscapers--would drive the 
city faster toward financial ruin. Donald Cohen, who heads the Center 
on Policy Initiatives, the left-leaning think tank that authored the 
ordinance, says it's a responsible law that will be phased in slowly 
and will lift these workers out of poverty.

Those families, he believes, will put money back into the local 
economy with their enhanced ability to pay for basic goods and services.

Riding the success of living wage, a few months later Cohen helmed a 
so-called "community benefits agreement" with Ballpark Village 
developer JMI. The agreement, approved by the City Council in 
October, ensures that the project will be a responsible one, 
incorporating job training programs, well-paying construction jobs, 
environmentally friendly building standards and affordable housing 
for a range of income levels.

Eminent domain pain--On June 12, the Gran Havana Cigar and Coffee 
Lounge closed, the victim of eminent-domain laws under which the city 
labeled Ahmed Mesdaq's attractive establishment "blighted." In its 
place will go a 12-story Marriott Renaissance Hotel--sure to bring in 
huge amounts of tax-revenue but utterly lacking the charm of Gran 
Havana. However, revenge is sweet: In late October, a jury awarded 
Mesdaq $7.7 million, which, under a pre-trial agreement with the 
city, will be paid by Marriott--a mere sneeze for the mega hotel 
chain, but a huge victory for the little guy.

Will leadership light up the night?--When 17-year-old Donna Hernandez 
was shot and killed in a poorly lit rec center parking lot, District 
Attorney Dumanis donated money to install new lights.

Meanwhile, a group calling themselves Barrios Unidos Hoy Organizados, 
or BUHO, had been rallying for months to get streetlights installed 
in some of the darker corners of Barrio Logan. CityBeat reporter Kia 
Momtazi took a nighttime tour of the area with BUHO members and saw 
what they were talking about.

Momtazi also talked to San Diego Police officials who told her that 
lack of street lighting doesn't mean increased crime. The move by the 
DA says otherwise.

And even if the police department is correct, some well-placed 
streetlights will at least give the residents of one of the city's 
more heavily populated areas some peace of mind. Time will tell how 
the next official elected to represent that area on the City Council 
responds to community concerns.

Conversion aversion--A coalition of affordable-housing advocates led 
by environmental attorney Cory Briggs wants to see the city do a 
thorough study of whether the tidal wave of condo conversions taking 
place primarily in the North Park/City Heights/University Heights 
area are negatively affecting the environment and displacing 
low-income tenants.

City Attorney Mike Aguirre agreed in November that an environmental 
study is warranted; at that point, conversion of at least 11,000 
units was planned.

The city's Development Services Department prefers to strengthen 
regulations with a condo-conversion ordinance, expected to come 
before a City Council committee in February, but Briggs argues that 
won't solve the problems that concern his clients.

While this debate ensued, condo converters, worried about a 
moratorium that might come with the kind of study Briggs wants to 
see, scrambled, over the course of just a few weeks, applying for 
permits to convert another 6,200 units.

What that means: In less than two years, more than 17,000 units 
either have been, or will be, removed from the rental market, adding 
to the glut of costly for-sale condos and leaving displaced tenants 
with far fewer options. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake