Pubdate: Thu, 07 Oct 2010
Source: City on a Hill Press (UC Santa Cruz, CA, Edu)
Copyright: 2010 City on a Hill Press
Author: Patrick Rooney


Laws and attitudes toward marijuana are changing throughout the state,
and Santa Cruz is no exception.

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors formally expressed a policy
Sept. 26, which addresses medical marijuana dispensaries that have
sprung up in past years. The policy allows and regulates the
facilities, as well as places a moratorium on new medical marijuana
dispensaries until the board finalizes the new policies.

Supervisor John Leopold said the board plans to have a rough draft of
the new policies by Nov. 9.

"There were no land use rules [for the dispensaries] in unincorporated
areas," said Leopold, who spearheaded the legislative effort with
supervisor Neal Coonerty. "We wanted to create an orderly process with
reasonable rules which ensure access."

Santa Cruz's policy changes are a microcosm of the policy and attitude
changes taking place throughout the state. On Oct. 1, Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that decriminalizes possession
of less than one ounce of marijuana, changing the penalty from a
misdemeanor to an infraction similar to a traffic violation. What's
more, Proposition 19 on the ballot in November seeks to regulate, tax
and legalize marijuana altogether. Polls show the measure has a good
chance of passing.

There are already eight counties and 37 cities in California with
regulations in effect for medical marijuana and the dispensaries that
provide it.

"We don't really have to reinvent the wheel," Leopold said. "We can
pull out the best features already present in those policies. The one
area which is different is the priority we are placing on ensuring
access to low-income individuals."

One of many individuals who use medical marijuana in Santa Cruz County
is Harold "Hal" Margolin, 78, who has used marijuana since 2000 to
treat his painful symptoms of leukemia, pneumonia and neuropathy.
Margolin's luck took a turn for the worse last week when he suffered a
heart attack and a broken hip. He is now in the hospital, where he
expects to stay for another three weeks.

"I can't smoke in here," Margolin said. "So I do have to take
painkillers instead, which I prefer not to use."

He described why he favors marijuana and its beneficial effects for

"It's the one medicine without any side effects like dizziness,"
Margolin said. "That's really important. I will not categorically say
it is a painkiller. But even if I do have the pain, the consciousness
is diverted, and I don't think about the pain."

Marijuana helps Margolin not only with the constant presence of pain
in his life but with the other symptoms of his condition.

"It helps me sleep," he said.

Contrary to what opponents of medical marijuana say about people who
use the drug, Margolin doesn't often get high from the amount he
smokes to alleviate his symptoms, he said.

Margolin obtains medical marijuana from the Wo/Men's Alliance for
Medical Marijuana (WAMM) in Santa Cruz. WAMM, founded in 1993, was the
first medical marijuana collective in the nation, and though it indeed
dispenses marijuana, director and co-founder Valerie Corral goes to
great lengths to distinguish WAMM from dispensaries and buyers' clubs.

"The difference between us and dispensaries is that even if you don't
have money, you can access us," Corral said.

WAMM does not seek to make a profit, and its website contains a
reference to Marxist principle: "Each member receives according to
need and returns to WAMM according to ability."

Corral weighed in on the as-yet-unknown policies being formed
regarding medical marijuana dispensaries.

"We hope the new county policies will call out so-called 'compassion
clubs' to employ compassion, not just enrich their financial bottom
line," Corral said.

Corral herself uses medical marijuana to treat her epilepsy and
prevent seizures, and helped author Proposition 215 in 1996, which
legalized medical marijuana in California.

Corral named pain relief, sleep aid, increased appetite and the
alleviation of behavioral disorders like oppositional defiant
disorder, among the beneficial effects of medical marijuana. She also
emphasized the psychological benefits for people dealing with serious

"It changes the way people look at sickness and reduces anxiety people
have when looking at the end of life," Corral said.

Corral has an ally in Supervisor Leopold, who first became interested
in medical marijuana when he served as executive director for the
Santa Cruz AIDS Project 14 years ago. Leopold first began doing AIDS
work as a student at UCSC. He graduated from Merrill College in 1988
with a politics degree.

"I saw first-hand the nature of this medicine for people, especially
in the late stages of terminal illness to maintain a better quality of
life," he said.

Leopold said that past voter action bodes well for Proposition 19 in

"When Prop 215 passed with 74 percent of the vote," Leopold said, "I
interpreted that as the voters understanding the value of
compassionate use to alleviate pain."  
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MAP posted-by: Jo-D