Pubdate: Fri, 10 Feb 2006
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Page: A3
Copyright: 2006 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Herbert A. Sample, Bee San Francisco Bureau
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Cited: San Diego County Board of Supervisors
Cited: San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors
Cited: National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


City Bucks Federal, Municipal Crackdowns

SAN FRANCISCO - In the past few months, this city enacted an 
ordinance regulating medical marijuana shops, federal authorities 
raided one of the dispensaries, and advocates protested the crackdown 
by openly giving free pot to ill patients in a city plaza.

While the federal government continues going after medical cannabis 
shops across the state, and many communities still resist giving 
business licenses to the operations, support for the dispensaries in 
San Francisco remains strong - even among law enforcement officials.

And that has set up what appears to be the makings of an intractable 
feud that some observers say no one is winning.

"It seems to me that this is a really good example of both sides of a 
hot topic doing really badly at handling it," said Rory Little, a 
professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law 
in San Francisco.

"The feds have been ham-handed to some extent in what you call raids, 
in their search warrants and their seizing of plants and things like 
that," said Little, a former federal prosecutor. "On the other hand, 
the medical marijuana people have been unbelievably open to being 
co-opted" by groups supporting recreational pot smoking.

Local governments in California have been heading in disparate 
directions on medical marijuana. Roseville, for example, permanently 
banned medical marijuana dispensaries last year after repealing its 
law regulating pot shops. In another anti-marijuana move, San Diego 
and San Bernardino county supervisors last month voted to sue to 
overturn Proposition 215, passed in 1996 legalizing medical 
marijuana, and a 2005 state medical marijuana ID card law, arguing 
that those measures conflict with federal statutes.

On the other hand, Oakland passed rules two years ago permitting four 
dispensaries. Santa Cruz last year created a city department to 
distribute medicinal pot - the Office of Compassionate Use - although 
it's not operating yet. San Francisco voters in 2002 approved a 
similar policy in a nonbinding vote, and the Board of Supervisors in 
November enacted this city's first dispensary regulations.

The new rules allowed many of the city's nearly three dozen shops to 
remain but restricted where new ones could locate, and limited hours 
of operation and how much a patient could buy.

Catherine and Steven Smith, co-owners of the Hope Net Co-op and 
members of city task forces on medical marijuana, were active in the 
effort to enact the ordinance. To them, the new law tacitly 
acknowledged the shops as a legitimate part of the community.

"We're definitely becoming part of the establishment," said Catherine 
Smith, 49, who uses marijuana for control of migraines and to manage pain.

But on the morning of Dec. 20, federal Drug Enforcement 
Administration agents raided the Smiths' home and seized evidence but 
made no arrests.

The agents later approached Hope Net's shop but retreated as a crowd 
of several dozen medicinal marijuana supporters protested. A few 
hours later, after the demonstrators had dispersed, the agents 
entered the co-op and confiscated marijuana and other evidence, 
temporarily putting the dispensary out of business.

"It really took away our ability to help people," Smith said.

The raids angered medicinal marijuana supporters and two county 
supervisors, who organized a January press conference in City Hall, 
where aides to Mayor Gavin Newsom, District Attorney Kamala Harris 
and state legislators read supportive statements.

At Civic Center Plaza across the street, Hope Net then passed out 
marijuana joints and candies to their patients, without interference 
from law enforcement. The separate - but linked - events were meant 
as a push-back, said Camilla Norman Field, deputy director of the 
Drug Policy Alliance, a national nonprofit that advocates changes in 
marijuana and other drug laws.

"When there is a direct action against our city and our community and 
our patients by the DEA, you're going to see a direct response from 
our community, including city officials," said Field.

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, 
contended that when the federal government confronts one of the more 
than 100 dispensaries in the state, it suffers a public relations defeat.

The dispensaries "are publicly listed in the Yellow Pages. They are 
doing this in an open manner," she said. "The truth is that every 
time (federal officials) move forward on medical marijuana, they 
receive a black eye."

But Gordon Taylor, assistant special agent in charge of DEA 
operations in San Francisco, said efforts by several California 
cities and counties to delay or bar dispensaries demonstrate a 
groundswell against what he prefers to call "marijuana distribution centers."

In those cities and counties that do facilitate the distribution of 
medicinal marijuana, the DEA will continue to enforce federal law, he added.

"We have a responsibility to do that even in areas where it may not 
be popular," said Taylor, who works out of the agency's Sacramento office.

Further, he said it's time to "set the record straight" that many, 
though not all, dispensary customers are healthy and are obtaining 
the drug for recreational purposes.

It is that assertion, said Little, the Hastings law professor, that 
drives federal efforts. He said federal agents might have had ample 
probable cause for their searches, but they antagonized medicinal 
marijuana advocates by raiding operations where there were ill 
patients, such as a 2002 search of a Santa Cruz cooperative.

Little said medical marijuana proponents also hurt their cause by 
joining with groups, such as the National Organization for the Reform 
of Marijuana Laws, that also advocate legalizing recreational use.

While the seeming intractability of the two sides may persist for 
several more years, the popular trend appears to favor medicinal 
marijuana advocates as more states pass laws allowing its use and 
political pressure builds on federal officials, said Kenneth Walsh, a 
criminal justice professor at San Francisco State University.

"Eventually the people just won't be denied," said Walsh, a former 
New York City police officer.

In the meantime, the standoff between the federal government and 
medicinal marijuana supporters continues.

"Something has to be worked out with the federal government," said 
Anthony Ribera, a former San Francisco police chief and head of the 
University of San Francisco's International Institute of Criminal 
Justice Leadership. "The fact of the matter is, federal law 
supersedes local law and that's the reality of it."

In the Know

California voters passed Proposition 215, legalizing marijuana use 
for medicinal purposes, by a 56 percent majority in 1996. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake