Source: San Luis Obispo Telegram-Tribune (CA)
Pubdate: 16 September 1998
Author: Tom Elias 
Tel: 805-781-7800


LOS ANGELES - Confusion reigns more than ever in California's medical
marijuana wars this fall as the state's most liberal cities and counties
struggle to find a legal way to distribute the weed to patients who need
it, and federal and state authorities fight to close the few remaining
cannabis buyers clubs.

The battle figures to move both to the ballot box and a jury trial, this
fall, as pot-supplying cooperatives in three Northern California cities
remain open in the face of a four-month-old court order to shut down. The
three face contempt of court charges and pro-marijuana activists are eager
to see whether any jury will convict their leaders.

The issue has only become more complicated with the city of Oakland's move
to immunize officers of the local Cannabis Buyers Club by declaring them
city officials.

Meanwhile, regardless of how the courts or the fall election affect medical
marijuana, cities like San Francisco insist they will continue trying to
put pot in the hands of AIDS patients, epileptics and others whose
conditions are eased by the narcotic.

"It won't be an easy task to find an way to do this legally," says San
Francisco District Attorney Terrence Hallinan. "But it's necessary."

Adds his city's mayor, Willie Brown, "We'd be remiss if we didn't do
anything. At least 10,000 people in this city need the marijuana and
they've been left without a legal source since the only buyers co-op in the
city was closed by the court order."

Besides trying to immunize the local pot distributors, Oakland's city
government also took action the other day to allow patients to grow their
own marijuana. Councilmen passed an ordinance allowing patients acting on a
doctor's recommendation to possess 1.5 pounds of the weed at any one time,
and also to grow as many as 144 plants at a time, with 38 of them in the
flowering phase when their potency is highest. Even pro-medical marijuana
activists say that is about three times more than any patient should need,
and it is three times the standard state Attorney General Dan Lungren set
last year for legal possession by a patient.

Possessing marijuana for medical reasons has been legal in California has
been legal in California since Proposition 215 passed by a wide margin in
1996. But federal laws make distribution and use illegal and both Lungren
and Gov. Pete Wilson have fought efforts to set up government-run
distribution networks. Both insist medical marijuana is nothing more than a
backdoor way to full legalization for the narcotic. Lungren is now the
Republican candidate for governor and his former top deputy, David
Stirling, is the GOP candidate to succeed him as attorney general.

"The net effect is that we are now in legal never-never land," says Scott
Imler, co-author of Proposition 215 and director of the Los Angeles
Cannabis Buyers' Club, not covered by the May court order. "I'm now very
disappointed we did not include distribution in the proposition. That was a
political decision so that the clubs would not become a campaign issue."

It also means the November election will largely decide the fate of medical

"Electing Lungren and Stirling would mean four more years of chaos, because
they are adamant about not allowing any sort of distribution," Imler said.
"If they're elected, the only solution would be for the federal government
to declare this a prescription drug - and they haven't shown any great
eagerness to do it."

Meanwhile, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gray Davis takes a
noncommittal stance on medical pot, saying he's open to legalizing
distribution to patients if academic studies show a true need. And state
Sen. Bill Lockyer, the Democratic nominee for attorney general, never
blocked passage of medical marijuana bills during his years as the Senate's

Fellow state Sen. John Vasconcellos, a Democrat who has fought for years to
legalize medical use of the weed, agrees the future of medical marijuana
likely hinges on the election outcome. "We're going to present Wilson with
a bill this fall to set up legal distribution," said his top aide. "But we
have no illusions that he will sign it. He vetoed two medical marijuana
bills before Proposition 215 passed and he wants to run for president.
He'll veto this one, too."

Meanwhile, six clubs still distribute marijuana to patients, with all but
Imler's operating in Northern California cities.

"We just don't think it's against the law to save lives and make lives more
palatable," says the president of the Ukiah club, one of the three facing
contempt charges. "We're confident we can win before a jury."

But the real decision, as so often in this state, will be made by the
voters in November. Their choices for governor and attorney general will
tell, among other things, whether they were really serious or merely acting
on a passing whim when they voted for Proposition 215. ---------------

Elias is the author of the new book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The
Century's Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to
Squelch It."

His e-mail address is - ---
Checked-by: Pat Dolan