Pubdate: Sat, 16 Jun 2007
Source: AlterNet (US Web)
Copyright: 2007 Independent Media Institute
Author: Patrick McCartney and Paul A. Lee, Alternet
Note: A version of this article originally appeared in 
O'Shaughnessy's, the journal of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians.
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)
Bookmark: (Conant vs. McCaffrey)


More Than Ten Years After California's Compassionate Use Act Was 
Passed by Voters, State and Local Officials Are Still Collaborating 
With Federal Law Enforcement to Undermine It.

On the morning of January 13, 2004, Tehama County prosecutor Lynn 
Strom unexpectedly announced that the state of California was 
dropping charges against Cynthia Blake and David Davidson for 
possessing and growing cannabis with the intent to distribute. While 
the two medical marijuana patients waited in the courtroom, Strom and 
the defense attorneys disappeared inside the judge's chambers to 
discuss the motion to dismiss. Moments later, more than a dozen 
sheriff's deputies pounced on the hapless couple, handcuffed them, 
and shoved them into an unmarked police car waiting outside the 
courthouse in the Sacramento Valley town of Corning. They were 
already en route to jail in Sacramento when Strom informed their 
lawyers that the state was bowing out because the Feds were taking 
over the case.

It was a devastating blow for Blake, a retired Federal Reserve 
employee, and her sweetheart, Davidson, a retail shop owner.

Both in their early fifties, they were booked on federal drug charges 
and transferred to the jurisdiction of the Eastern District office of 
US Attorney McGregor Scott. If convicted, they each faced a mandatory 
minimum of ten years to life in prison for exercising a right they 
thought they had gained with the 1996 passage of Proposition 215, the 
California ballot measure that legalized cannabis for medical purposes.

Both had a physician's recommendation to ease their ailments with 
marijuana, and neither had a criminal history. They had been tending 
three dozen pot plants in a remote garden, which they shared with 
other patients; their attorneys insist that no money had exchanged 
hands for the herb. But none of this would matter in federal court, 
which treated all marijuana as equally illicit, making no exceptions 
even for the seriously ill.

The well-coordinated Blake-Davidson hand-off was not the first time 
local authorities in California had turned over a medical marijuana 
case to federal authorities. But it is perhaps the most dramatic 
example of ongoing, secret collusion between various levels of 
government to prevent the implementation of the Compassionate Use 
Act, as Proposition 215 was called on the ballot.

For the past ten years, state and local officials sworn to uphold the 
state ballot measure have instead proven to be willing -- sometimes 
eager -- accomplices in a concerted U.S. attack on a state law. Now, 
a half year past its tenth birthday, the landmark California law 
remains under siege.

Within days after Prop 215 was enacted in the fall of 1996, top 
California law enforcement officials huddled privately with America's 
drug war high command in Washington, DC, where they plotted to 
sabotage a voter initiative they were unable to defeat at the ballot box.

On Dec. 3, 1996, in Sacramento, 300 district attorneys, police 
chiefs, sheriffs, and narcotics officers attended an "Emergency All 
Zones Meeting," at which they were advised, basically, to continue 
arresting and prosecuting as before.

Then-Attorney-General Dan Lungren and his deputies maintained that 
the new law did not shield marijuana suspects from arrest but merely 
provided them with an "affirmative defense" to invoke at a trial.

Under Lungren's "narrow interpretation," local narcotics officers 
could exercise unilateral power in deciding if med-pot growers had 
more plants than they, the officers, believed justified by their 
medical condition.

Enforcement of the Compassionate Use Act varied dramatically across 
California's 58 counties.

Where ballot support was strongest, especially in the San Francisco 
Bay Area, patients could obtain locally issued ID cards and purchase 
their medicine from storefront dispensaries that had begun opening 
even before Prop 215 passed.

But beyond an hour or so drive from San Francisco, in the Other 
California -- Red-State California, as it were -- local police and 
prosecutors conducted a reign of terror against patients and 
caregivers that went largely unnoticed by the state's metropolitan press corps.

Operating with federal anti-marijuana grants that increased by 50 
percent in the first five years after passage of Prop 215, a dozen 
regional task forces worked with DEA and IRS partners to target 
marijuana growers regardless of medical use. "Prop. 215 might fly in 
San Francisco, but not here," a Placer County deputy told the target 
of a 1998 arrest and prosecution.

Nowhere did local authorities repress medical users more than in the 
Eastern District, the sprawling federal court district spanning 
California's San Joaquin and Sacramento valleys and the Sierra 
Nevada, where Blake and Davidson faced charges.

Drug War strategists had pegged physicians as the weakest link in the 
med cannabis supply chain.

Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Clinton's drug czar, took aim at the doctors 
first, threatening to revoke the licenses of those who approved 
cannabis use by patients.

A group of physicians and patients, with help from the ACLU and the 
Drug Policy Alliance, promptly sued the U.S. government on free 
speech and privacy grounds.

The suit, called Conant v. McCaffrey, resulted in a federal 
injunction issued on First Amendment grounds upholding the doctors' 
right to discuss cannabis as a treatment option.

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