Pubdate: Tue, 07 Jun 2005
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2005 Los Angeles Times
Author: Eric Bailey, Times Staff Writer
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Cited: WAMM
Cited: Gonzales v. Raich
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Angel Raich)


SACRAMENTO -- Californians who use medical marijuana remained defiant 
Monday in the face of a Supreme Court decision that allows the federal 
government to prosecute patients who use the drug with a doctor's 

The decision caused ripples across the state, the first in the nation to 
approve medical marijuana with passage of Proposition 215 in 1996.

Few expected to see federal drug authorities renew an aggressive war on 
medical marijuana in the Golden State. "This would be like the Oakland 
Police Department focusing on busting jaywalkers," said Steph Sherer of 
Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group.

Indeed, federal officials were quick to say after Monday's decision that 
they did not expect to begin routine prosecutions of individual marijuana 

But advocates of medical marijuana, and some patients, expressed worry 
about what might happen to the organizations that have sprung up to 
distribute the drug in the state. The court victory might embolden federal 
prosecutors to go after such groups, they said.

Dr. Frank Lucido, a Berkeley family practitioner who specializes in medical 
marijuana recommendations, predicted the federal government might raid a 
few "high-profile clubs, probably those with lower standards."

California has about 120 medical marijuana cooperatives. An additional 300 
organizations are scattered around the nation, mostly in the nine other 
states with laws legalizing the herb with a doctor's recommendation, Sherer 

Valerie Corral, founder of a Santa Cruz medical marijuana collective known 
as WAMM, said the ruling will mean the end of the group's wind-swept 
communal garden up the coast. Federal agents raided the garden in 2002.

After that raid, outraged Santa Cruz officials let ill and infirm members 
of the collective ceremoniously distribute medical marijuana on the steps 
of City Hall. Corral said the group, which has seen 155 members die of 
AIDS, cancer and other illnesses over a dozen years of operation, will 
split up the responsibility of growing marijuana among its members.

"It's not as if this decision wipes out cancer and ends AIDS and everyone 
in a wheelchair can now get up and dance," Corral said. "Where are people 
supposed to go if we shut down?"

Authorities in San Francisco were grappling with how to plan for tighter 
regulations on cannabis clubs. Regulating an enterprise that the federal 
government considers criminal could place the city in a difficult legal 
situation, they said.

"This puts us in a state of temporary paralysis," said Supervisor Ross 
Mirkarimi. "I don't want to flout the law, but at the same time it would be 
irresponsible of us to turn our backs on patients."

Keith Vines, a former San Francisco deputy district attorney who had to 
retire last year because of complications from AIDS, said he worries that 
the dispensary where he purchases medical marijuana could be shut down.

"How would I get it?" wondered Vines, who smokes pot a few times a week to 
slow the wasting effects of AIDS. "I don't think you'd see me out on the 
street corner trying to buy it. There's too much risk."

Some government officials also expressed concern the decision would slow a 
state program, approved in 2003, to provide identification cards for 
patients whose doctors have prescribed marijuana for their ailments.

On the other hand, some activists expressed hope that the decision could 
actually help in their long fight to legalize medical marijuana in the U.S.

"Medical marijuana advocates have been urging the federal government for 
years to have an objective, science-based, sane conversation about 
marijuana as medicine," Sherer said. "Now the Supreme Court is urging them 
along as well."

Angel Raich of Oakland, one of two women who sued to keep her medical 
supply, said she planned to carry the battle to Congress in hopes of seeing 
federal laws changed so physicians can prescribe medicinal pot.

"I've still got some breath in my body, so I'm going to stand up and 
fight," said Raich, who smokes pot every few hours to counteract the 
effects of a brain tumor and other illnesses. "I can't stop using this 
medicine. I don't have that choice."

Legislation before Congress would prohibit the use of federal tax dollars 
for raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, a past target of U.S. drug 
agents. In addition, a petition before U.S. health officials would allow 
doctors in all 50 states to consider prescribing marijuana to patients in 
need. A decision could come as soon as this summer. Given the Bush 
administration's strong opposition to medicinal use of marijuana, both 
efforts face long odds.

California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer urged the public to pressure Congress to 
look anew at legalizing medical marijuana.

"Taking medicine on the recommendation of a doctor for a legitimate illness 
should not be a crime," Lockyer said. "There is something very wrong with a 
federal law that treats medical marijuana the same as heroin."

In the nearly nine years since California approved Proposition 215, Sherer 
said, the federal government has prosecuted about 30 medical marijuana 
cases against individuals and organizations.



Here is a chronology of efforts to legalize the use of cannabis for medical 
purposes in California:

1992: A few cities approve the use of medical marijuana for people with 
AIDS, cancer and other chronic diseases.

November 1996: California voters pass Proposition 215, legalizing the 
drug's use for seriously ill people.

August 2000: The U.S. Supreme Court bars Californians from legally 
dispensing the drug.

May 2001: The U.S. Supreme Court rules 8 to 0 that federal law leaves no 
room for compassionate exceptions and prohibits giving marijuana to 
seriously ill patients, invalidating measures by the states.

July 2002: The California Supreme Court unanimously upholds Proposition 215.

October 2002: Angel Raich, two growers who give her free marijuana, and 
Diane Monson, another medical pot patient, seek an injunction to stop the 
federal enforcement efforts.

December 2003: A U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel rules 2 to 1 
against federal prosecution of patients who receive free marijuana on a 
physician's advice.

May 2004: A federal judge in San Francisco issues a preliminary injunction 
to protect Raich, Monson and the two marijuana suppliers from prosecution.

June 2005: The U.S. Supreme Court rules that federal law prevails over 
state laws in upholding the pot ban, effectively weakening medical 
marijuana laws.

Sources - Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News; Times research by John 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake