Pubdate: Tue, 19 Jan 1999
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 1999 News World Communications, Inc.
Author: Thomas D. Elias


SAN FRANCISCO tate law enforcement agents will no longer be raiding
medical marijuana outlets in California, and the newly installed
Democratic state attorney general has been talking to federal
officials about changing their laws.

Attorney General Bill Lockyer wishes he could do more to make
practical reality of his state's 1996 Proposition 215, which
authorized use of medical marijuana by patients with a doctor's
recommendation. His stance is precisely opposite that of his
predecessor, Republican Dan Lungren, whose agents sometimes raided
marijuana co-ops that local and federal authorities didn't want to
deal with.

But Mr. Lockyer made it clear his election does not end this sometimes
confusing battle. In fact, the status of Proposition 215 may be more
muddled than ever.

"I would like to do what the people want, but we can't do it
completely by ourselves," he said. "As long as the federal government
puts marijuana in the same class as heroin as a dangerous narcotic,
215 will never really be law."

But Mr. Lockyer promises that when local law enforcement agents refuse
to shut down pot clubs, he will not intervene. That's a sharp contrast
to Mr. Lungren, who sent state agents to raid pot co-ops and backed
federal prosecutors when they won court orders to close others.

"As an example, if the San Francisco club that Lungren raided were to
reopen, I would not raid it," Mr. Lockyer said.

Since local district attorney Terence Hallinan is a longtime backer of
medical pot, the only way that club or another one that still operates
quietly in the city could be shut down would be for federal agents to
move in.

Mr. Lockyer said he is frustrated by federal laws that now make it
illegal to grow or sell marijuana, even for medicinal purposes. He's
already lobbying federal officials to change the status of pot.

"The best suggestion for solving this problem is a two-parter," Mr.
Lockyer said. "First, we need to find ways to tighten our law to make
sure that medical marijuana doesn't become a vehicle for overall
legalization. And second, the federal government needs to make it a
Schedule 2 drug that can be prescribed. If we can give people
morphine, why can't we give them this?"

Mr. Lockyer said the roots of his support for medical marijuana are
highly personal. "I watched my mother and sister die of leukemia and I
know they could have used this to ease their pain," he says. "People
like Lungren say medical marijuana will lead to overall legalization.
But we've used morphine and other opiates for many years, and no one
except strict libertarians has ever seriously suggested legalizing
them for recreation."

Mr. Lockyer envisions a series of medical marijuana clinics around his
state, each carefully screening all customers to make sure their use
of the weed is strictly according to instructions from a physician.
"But these should be clinics, not cults, the way some of the marijuana
clubs have seemed to be at times.

"I've had talks already with the top federal law enforcement people on
this, and they seem fairly receptive," he said. "They know that
Alaska, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Colorado have all passed their
own medical marijuana initiatives since we passed 215. In fact,
wherever it's been voted on and the ballots counted, it has passed. So
it's not just crazy California by itself any more."

But Mr. Lockyer realizes changing the status of marijuana for medical
purposes would be a dicey political move for the Clinton

Noting that President Clinton has admitted smoking the weed as a youth
but claimed not to have inhaled, Mr. Lockyer said "that might make it
politically impossible for him to make the change."

Mr. Lockyer also cautioned activists not to expect his office to jump
in and help them if and when local district attorneys or federal
authorities make arrests. "I'm not interested in frivolous windmill
tilting," Mr. Lockyer said. "If I can think of a theory under which I
can defend the state law the people passed, I will. But my inclination
is toward consensus, not confrontation, with the policy-makers."
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