Pubdate: Sun, 13 Aug 2006
Source: North County Times (Escondido, CA)
Copyright: 2006 North County Times
Note: Gives LTE priority to North San Diego County and Southwest 
Riverside County residents
Author: Gig Conaughton, Staff Writer
Cited: San Diego County Board of Supervisors
Cited: Deputy District Attorney Damon Mosler
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Chronic Pain)


SAN DIEGO - First, county supervisors declared war on California's 
voter-approved medical marijuana law - filing an-yet to be heard 
lawsuit in December to overturn the decade-old law, arguing that it 
should be superseded by federal law that says marijuana is dangerous 
and all use is illegal.

Now, it appears that county law enforcement has adopted the same 
aggressive stance, declaring war on medical marijuana dispensaries.

In July - even though California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said 
local police were not obligated to help enforce federal laws that say 
all marijuana use is illegal - representatives of the San Diego 
County district attorney's office and sheriff's deputies joined raids 
on several dispensaries and arrested 10 people.

Meanwhile, the county's top drug prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney 
Damon Mosler, said last week that he thinks all dispensaries are 
inherently illegal - despite state voters having approved the 1996 
"Compassionate Use Act" that made it legal for seriously ill people 
to use marijuana to ease their pain.

Mosler said "There's nothing under (California's law) that allows for 
retail sale (of marijuana)" - meaning that he believes dispensaries 
are operating illegally even if they're only selling to patients with 
legitimate recommendations from doctors.

The county's aggressive posture has ratcheted up the angst of 
patients who use marijuana, and for drug advocacy groups, who say 
regulated dispensaries are the best system for seriously ill people 
to get marijuana.

Those patients and advocacy groups also say that other counties are 
not targeting dispensaries, and that San Diego County's doing so will 
force local patients "into the streets" to "score" marijuana from drug dealers.

"It's just very distressing," Craig McClain, a Vista patient who uses 
marijuana to help ease the pain of his crushed spine, said recently. 
"(Targeting dispensaries) is definitely a form of harassment. To me, 
I'm so overwhelmed. There's nobody brave enough in our government to 
stand up and help us."

Ongoing Controversy

Even though 55 percent of California voters approved the 
Compassionate Use Act in 1996, the law remains vague and problematic 
in the state - with counties, state officials and law enforcement 
officers still unsure how to effectively implement it.

The 1996 law simply said that seriously ill people had the legal 
right to "obtain and use marijuana for medicinal purposes."

It did not say how people would get the drug. Instead, it 
"encouraged" the state and federal governments to implement a plan to 
safely distribute medical marijuana - something that a decade later 
has still not been done.

California legislators passed a law in 2003, hoping to fix the 
distribution questions and make it easier for law enforcement 
officers to tell who "legitimate" medical marijuana patients were. 
The law, Senate Bill 420, ordered counties to create identification 
card and registry systems.

But San Diego County supervisors balked. They decided to ignore SB 
420. And in December, they filed a lawsuit to actually overturn the 
Compassionate Use Act - arguing that the state law should be 
pre-empted by federal law that says all marijuana use is illegal.

Critics say the supervisors have mounted their precedent-setting 
opposition because they simply politically disagree. Each of the 
supervisors have said they think marijuana is "bad," and that 
creating identification cards for its use would tell children that 
drug use was "OK."

But the supervisors have maintained they simply feel it is wrong to 
honor California's law because federal law bans all marijuana use.

The lawsuit is important because it marks the first time a county has 
sued to overturn any of the medical marijuana laws approved by voters 
in 11 states.

The trial court is expected to rule on the lawsuit in November. But 
whatever the judge decides, officials said they expect that appeals 
will result in the issue being headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Dispensaries 'Visited'

Meanwhile, law enforcement in San Diego County, like county 
supervisors, appears to have taken a more aggressive posture toward 
marijuana dispensaries. They rode along with federal agents and 
helped in July's raids and seizures.

That, in turn, appears to have made federal drug enforcement agents 
more aggressive as well. In late July, a week after the raids and 
arrests, drug enforcement officials "visited" the remaining 
dispensaries they knew about, to let them know they were violating 
federal law - regardless of California's marijuana laws.

Mosler said those dispensaries were warned that federal agents could 
return with new arrest warrants.

"I think the key message was, 'We could be back,' " said Dan Simmons, 
spokesman for San Diego County's federal drug enforcement office.

William Dolphin, spokesman for Oakland-based Americans for Safe 
Access that has advocated on behalf of medical marijuana patients, 
said: "The understanding I have is that they were not exactly veiled 
threats, but direct threats of arrest - 'We will be back and if your 
doors are open, we will arrest you.' "

Other counties are not taking such actions.

Special Agent Joycelyn Barnes of San Francisco's regional drug 
enforcement office said federal agents there don't bother medical 
marijuana dispensaries.

"We try to target the large growers," Barnes said, "because they 
would supply the dispensaries. The (dispensaries) are not our main focus."

Likewise, officials from Riverside County's district attorney's 
office said they were not targeting dispensaries in that county. 
Riverside officials said their county was actually trying to adopt 
rules to guide how dispensaries would be operated legally within 
their jurisdiction.

Mosler, meanwhile, said last week that he believes the recent raids 
and "visits" by federal and local law enforcement have essentially 
shut down all the dispensaries in San Diego County, except for 
"mobile" dispensaries - operated out of people's cars.

Who's The Target?

Mosler said last week that San Diego County empathizes with, and has 
not targeted for prosecution, medical marijuana users.

He said unscrupulous doctors have made fortunes selling phony medical 
marijuana recommendations for patients who don't need the drug, and 
that dispensaries could become magnets for crime.

Mosler said the dispensary workers arrested in July allegedly sold 
marijuana to law officers - not patients.

"We've never harassed patients here," Mosler said.

He said that under California's Compassionate Use law, patients, or 
their immediate caregivers, can legally grow their own marijuana.

But Dolphin and patients like McClain said shutting down the 
dispensaries amounted to harassing medical marijuana patients.

"The fact, really and truly, is that it is the most ill people who 
need dispensaries (to buy marijuana)," Dolphin said. "Say you've just 
started chemotherapy and you've become violently ill. You're probably 
too sick to plant a garden. You can't wait for plants to mature. And 
most folks don't have the space to grow plants."

He said the county's action would essentially force patients out into 
the streets to find "black market" dealers.

McClain, whose spine was crushed by falling steel girders in a 
construction-related accident in 1990, said he does not want to grow 
marijuana at his home in part because he is afraid federal agents 
would raid his family's house.

McClain smokes marijuana a few times each day to help relax 
debilitating spasms that plague his screwed-together spine.

Mosler said he genuinely empathizes with McClain and other San Diego 
County residents who say they need marijuana to help them battle pain 
from cancer, burns, injuries, eating disorders and other ailments.

But Mosler said he also regards medical marijuana dispensaries as 
illegal - even if they are selling only to legitimate patients. He 
said California's still-debated medical marijuana laws don't allow 
for "dispensaries" that earn profits by selling medical marijuana.

Indeed, the Compassionate Use Act only says that it "encourages the 
federal and state governments to implement a plan to provide for the 
safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need."

McClain said that clearly is not happening in San Diego County.

"For some reason, San Diego County has taken it upon itself to be the 
vanguard of this ignorant movement," he said.

Dolphin agreed.

"No one wants their cancer-stricken grandmother going out on the 
street corner trying to score some marijuana," he said. "The will of 
voters was more with the patients." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake