Pubdate: Fri, 18 Apr 2008
Source: Black Star News, The (NY)
Copyright: 2008 Black Star News Inc.
Author: Neanda Salvaterra
Cited: Marijuana Policy Project
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


In the late 1980s Rob Kampia was a carefree, third-year science major
at Penn State University, who admits to inhaling now and then.

"I was on a dual track of occasionally smoking pot and studying really
hard so that I could do something in physics or astronomy," he says.

In a strained voice he relays the event that changed his life: "I was
arrested for growing my own marijuana in April of 1989 and sentenced
to three months in county jail." When he got out he had several felony
charges on his record. "One for cultivation, an attempt to distribute
and a couple of conspiracy charges as a result of that one incident,"
he says, recalling the disbelief he felt at the time.

Kampia, 39, now the director of the Marijuana Policy Project, says
prospects to decriminalize marijuana have never been better. New York
State legislators are considering a medical marijuana bill that
advocates are optimistic will become law, which would make New York
the 13th state to allow marijuana use through a doctor's pre scri ption.

And advocates are hopeful that if a Democrat wins the White House this
year, the federal government will stop cracking down on states with
looser marijuana laws, as the Justice Department under President Bush
has done.

To Kampia, even partially decriminalizing marijuana for medical
purposes will be a step toward ending what he calls "marijuana

"The police are expending enormous resources going after petty
marijuana crimes causing a huge drain on tax resources as well as
preventing them from going after serious criminals," he says. However,
he does not think marijuana should be freely accessible.

"Tomatoes are legal, but we are not saying that marijuana should be
sold as tomatoes," he says. "Instead we would like marijuana to be
regulated and taxed similarly as alcohol."

Nationally, advocates are pinning their hopes on statements by Rep.
Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, who said in March he plans to
sponsor a bill that would decriminalize medical marijuana.

Even though states like California attempted to organize the
distribution of medical marijuana, federal agents have repeatedly
raided Cannabis Clubs, as they are called.

More importantly, presidential hopeful Barack Obama was quoted in an
Oregon newspaper as being in favor of medial marijuana, which is legal
in Oregon. Obama also said that if elected, he would not use federal
law enforcement resources to undermine state law.

In New York, Assemblyman Richard N. Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat
and chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, is sponsoring the
medical marijuana bill under consideration.

"Thousands of New Yorkers who are suffering from life-threatening
conditions could receive medical benefit from marijuana," Gottfried
says. "Science has proven marijuana is effective."

Marijuana advocates rely on research done by the National Academy of
Sciences' Institute of Medicines in 1999, and a recent 2008 report
from the American College of Physicians, that say that marijuana has
several proven medicinal properties such as nausea control for AIDS
patients and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

"If a patient and his or her doctor agree that marijuana is the most
effective treatment for a serious illness, government should not stand
in the way," Gottfried says.

Doug Muzzio, 60, a professor of public affairs at Baruch College says,
"The bill has the best chance to pass that it ever had. They have
powerful sponsors and bipartisan support."

Although New York is considered a liberal state politically, it once
had some of the harshest drug laws in the country. The "Rockefeller
laws,' named for former Gov. Nelson Rockefeller, gave decade-long
sentences to anyone caught with a few ounces of an illegal drug.

A medical marijuana bill was passed in 2007 in the Assembly but was
never brought to a vote in the Senate.

New York Republican State Senator Vincent L. Leibell, a co-sponsor of
the bill and chairman of the Veterans, Homeland Security and Military
Affairs Committee, says that the bill was not voted on in the Senate
last year because "the consensus was that we have to find more common
ground on the regulation aspect."

Leibell believes, however, that the majority of representatives are in
agreement about the necessity for a medial marijuana bill.

Legislators are also aware of the Bush Administration's crackdowns in

"This could all be easily resolved if the Congress would deal with
this as a federal issue because," Leibell says, our " biggest problem
is, how do we do this without exposing our constituents to federal

Supporters are considering language that would request a federal
government exemption for regulated medical marijuana, he says, and he
is optimistic the bill will pass this year.

Muzzio is skeptical that Congress will take any action. Action is more
likely to come from the White House.

"You are never going to get a federal law passed so it has got to be
done through administrative discretion," he says. "It has got to be an
executive action."

Like New York, California is expected to ask the federal government to
stop superseding state law, says Tracy Fairchild, spokeswoman for
Carol Midgen, a California state senator.

Migden is sponsoring a bill that would ask the Drug Enforcement
Administration "to back off on shutting down marijuana dispensaries
that serve the terminally ill," Fairchild says.

"It would be a welcome relief if the new administration in 2009 has a
different philosophy on how to spend scarce drug enforcement dollars
that should be spent on drugs that kill people."

Some marijuana advocates see the issue as matter of states' rights.
"They keep raiding our marijuana medical dispensaries and arresting
the people that are trying to help us," said Phillip Alden, 44, who
uses marijuana to alleviate AIDS-related maladies. "I personally find
it to be abusive and a violation of states' rights." Alden, who has
been living with AIDS since 1994, also serves as an advisor on
HIV/AIDS-related issues with the San Mateo County Community Advisory
Board in California

Alden says medical marijuana has done wonders for him. "I suffer from
a nerve injury that is caused by AIDS or the medicines I have to take.
It cause tingling and sometimes a stabbing pain," Alden says. "With
medical marijuana I don't need a cane. I can hike and run."

There is a marijuana pill that is authorized by the federal government
for medical use. But Alden and other users say the pill is not as
effective as inhaling smoke.

Alden says that while he had a bleak outlook about AIDS and the
quality of his life years ago, his medications and medical
marijuana--and a pending change in the White House--make him feel good
about the future.

He says he has a supportive partner, is getting ready to publish a
novel, and has hopes that Obama can win and change the way the federal
government views marijuana.

"I am hopeful that a new presidential administration will look more
favorably on medical marijuana laws," he says. "If Barack is elected,
that will be the first letter that I will write to him."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin