Pubdate: Sun, 11 Jul 1999
Source: Plain Dealer, The (OH)
Copyright: 1999 The Plain Dealer
Contact:  1801 Superior Ave., Cleveland, OH 44114
Author: Joe Frolik, National Correspondent


OAKLAND, Calif. - Jeff W. Jones doesn't want anyone to die the way his
father did: shriveled in the agony of cancer and the nausea of chemotherapy.

Marijuana, which stimulates appetites and suppresses nausea, might have
given his father some comfort and dignity, Jones contends. If only his
South Dakota family had known that in 1988. If only it weren't illegal.

In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, a law that protects
those who use pot on a doctor's advice from criminal sanctions.

Jones, who had come west to work in the fledgling medical marijuana
movement, started the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative to supply
patients here with the drug.

But 2 1/2 years later, the quirky coalition of would-be drug legalizers,
AIDS and cancer activists and social libertarians pushing marijuana as
medicine has found that reversing six decades of prohibition is harder than
passing a referendum.

Especially since the federal government has been unwilling to relax its
prohibition of marijuana for any purpose, no matter what the voters of
California say.

Last year, a federal judge ordered Jones to close; five other Northern
California pot clubs were shut down as well. When Jones continued to sell
marijuana to some of his 1,200 members, he was cited for contempt. For a
time, marshals padlocked his downtown offices.

He is back now, sponsoring seminars on marijuana as medicine, selling hemp
products and certifying the medical status of those who may need a "215
defense." But come in search of pot, and Jones demurs. He can only refer
people to other, less visible cannabis clubs. And to the street.

"I get these calls, these messages from people, some of them really angry,"
the slender, neatly dressed Jones said. "They've called me yellow, called
me an opportunist for not continuing to fight on this issue.

"I don't want to be locked up."

"They're out there struggling, getting no help from their government. I'm
24 years old, and I don't want to be locked up for 20 years. I'm frustrated
my government's so out of touch."

Mark A. R. Kleiman, a drug policy advisor to Presidents Bush and Clinton,
thinks it is Jones and other advocates of medical marijuana who are out of
touch. Although initiatives also have now passed in Arizona, Alaska,
Washington and Oregon, they mean little, Kleiman said, because there is no
legal way to obtain marijuana.

Most of those initiatives allow patients or designated caregivers to grow
pot - but cultivation remains a federal offense. And as far as clubs such
as Jones', while Kleiman said they may be well-meaning, even useful, the
fact is, "they're committing federal felonies every day."

But if the medical pot lobby misjudged the impact of Proposition 215, so
did its opponents, added Kleiman, a public policy professor at the
University of California at Los Angeles.

In 1996, both Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the Clinton administration's chief drug
warrior, and Dan Lungren, then California's attorney general, warned 215
would legalize marijuana.

Yet state statistics indicate marijuana arrests in California are
essentially unchanged since 1996. So is pot use, including by teens, a
group McCaffrey said would get a mixed message if states deviated from a
"zero tolerance" approach to marijuana.

Bill Lockyer, who succeeded Lungren in January, has tried to ease the
antagonism between his state and Washington. He met with McCaffrey and
Attorney General Janet Reno, urging them to reclassify marijuana to make it
legal for doctors to prescribe and for legitimate pharmacies to stock. He
also requested more leeway for California and other states that have passed
medical marijuana laws.

Response was mixed. In the aftermath of Proposition 215, Reno and McCaffrey
threatened the prescription privileges of doctors who recommended marijuana.

Now, officials emphasize the dangers of states bypassing federal drug
approval procedures. They talk of doing more research on marijuana's
potential benefits, though a McCaffrey-requested Institute of Medicine
study this spring found evidence of usefulness for some ailments.

In addition, while injunctions against Jones and the other clubs remain in
effect, Lockyer has said he believes similar coops can avoid federal wrath
if they operate discreetly.

"The attorney general is required to uphold the will of the voters," said
Lockyer spokesman Nathan Barankin. "There's no exception for collisions
with federal law."

Lockyer also has appointed a 30-member task force including medical pot
advocates, physicians, prosecutors and cops to figure how to make 215 work.
It is focusing on three issues:

- - How to certify who is eligible to possess pot under 215?

- - How much marijuana can they have?

- - How do they get it?

Privately, members say the first issue is relatively simple, the second is
stickier, and the third may be impossible given federal law.

Registry Expected

Observers here generally expect the task force to propose a confidential
registry, run by the state health department, to collect documentation and
issue patient identification cards. That's being done already in Oregon and
Alaska under terms of their voter-approved initiatives.

Bill Zimmerman, head of Americans for Medical Rights and chief political
strategist on the medical marijuana side, urged such provisions after
seeing the difficulty California police were having determining who had a
legitimate claim under 215.

He notes that now in California, those who assert a plausible 215 defense
are rarely charged in most major cities or along the coast. But in more
rural and politically conservative areas, busts continue. Defendants have
to wait for a trial to offer a medical defense.

"We wanted to create a system that would prevent people from getting
arrested," said Zimmerman. "We're not there yet."

They are in Arcata, 300 miles north of San Francisco, where pot-growing has
unofficially anchored the local economy for decades. Police Chief Mel Brown
started issuing 215 identification cards in 1997. Brown said he opposed 215
and would again. He complains that anyone who can find a willing physician
can legally possess marijuana for virtually any ailment. (Last year's batch
of state initiatives generally specified what conditions qualify for
medical pot.)

"You could be dying of AIDS or have a sore toe, and if you can find a
doctor who'll write a note, we can't touch you," Brown said. "But I guess
it's the same with Percodan or lots of other prescription drugs."

Whatever his concerns, Brown had to enforce the law. To do that, he said,
officers need a way to determine "in the middle of the night, in a dark
alley, in the rain," if someone caught with marijuana can legally possess
it. Hence the card.

County Starts Registry

Mendocino County is also starting a registry. New district attorney Norman
Vroman, is a Libertarian; the board of supervisors once passed a resolution
welcoming the opening of Mel and Millie Lehrman's cannabis club (since
closed by the feds).

"As far as worrying about people who are growing it and using it for their
personal, medical use," said Vroman, "we've got more important things to do."

But how much does a person need? Proposition 215 offered no guidance.

Medical marijuana proponents such as Dennis Peron, who founded the San
Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club and helped draft 215, argue patients can
possess whatever they think they need.

No way, say law-enforcement officials. Chief Brown's limit is 10 plants; if
his officers find a card-carrying patient with more, they confiscate the
excess. Vroman said Mendocino's limit will be 12 plants or two pounds of
harvested herb.

Robert Raich, Jones' attorney and a member of Lockyer's task force, says
those figures are too low. He argues the limit should be closer to six
pounds, roughly what the federal government furnishes annually to the eight
patients who started receiving it during a little-publicized trial program
in the 1970s.

The issue will be critical this month when Steve and Michele Kubby,
publishers of an on-line adventure skiing magazine, go on trial for
cultivation. A federal-state-local task force busted them in January with
265 pot plants in their home near Lake Tahoe.

As Libertarian Party nominee for governor last year, Steve Kubby spoke
often of the marijuana use he believes has enabled him to live for 23 years
with a rare form of adrenal cancer. His cardiologist, Dr. Vincent De
Quattro of the University of Southern California Medical School, said he
knows of no other reason why Kubby has survived so long. "Marijuana-is the
only drug he's talking," said DeQuattro. Placer County prosecutors contend
the Kubbys had more pot than they could possibly use. (Michele Kubby claims
she, too, uses marijuana to relieve a chronic bowel problem). Steve Kubby
concedes they had a large garden, but says he and his wife did not want to
tend a smaller crop year-round. Nor did they dare run out.

"How much medicine," he said, "is too much for us to have to keep us alive?"

The Kubbys, of course, could not legally buy marijuana, which even ardent
supporters concede is the great limitation of Proposition 215 and its
political offspring. Geoff Sugarman of Oregonians for Medical Rights, which
waged its successful campaign in 1998, says small-scale cultivation is the
best alternative. Oregon's limit is seven plants.

"We didn't want something that illegal growing operations could hide
behind," he said. "Our system keeps the amount small enough that patients
can fly under the radar of the federal government."

Peron, the one-time pot dealer whose club had more than 10,000 members,
says that is what he always intended. He now lives north of the Napa
Valley, on an isolated farm where he and friends are nursing about 200
plants. He calls their pot plantation "215 personified."

Antagonists Invited

When the ever-brash Peron threw a housewarming party, he invited his old
antagonists from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Agents pulled up the
plants and left. "They didn't even stay for food," tut-tutted the
silver-haired, deeply tanned Peron, who promptly planted another crop.

"We never mentioned sales in 215," he said. "I figured cultivation would be
the way to go and I was right. Patients can cultivate marijuana and get off
the black market."

Scott Imler thinks growing your own may be fine for some users. But the
lanky director of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center says many who
come to his West Hollywood site are too sick to garden.

Besides, growing pot is not easy, Imler contends. He and his staff watched
insects devour their first crop. They now have about 150 plants thriving in
a windowless room, presided over by an experienced nurseryman.

But with 621 active members, Imler still goes to the black market for about
a third of the club's supplies; last year, according to its annual report,
the club bought 51.2 pounds.

"It's really dangerous and risky," said Imler. "But we have no choice."

Imler runs an exclusive club: The Los Angeles Times quoted a DEA agent as
saying they once tried to infiltrate, but were rebuffed. ID's are checked
at the door. Sales, logged on a computer, are limited to 21 grams a week.
Though smoking's permitted, joints cannot be shared. "It's a no-passing
zone," said Imler, who wants to avoid the bacchanal scene of Peron's pot pub.

Like most in the medical marijuana effort, Imler hopes the federal
government will revise its pot policy. Until then, he said, clubs like his
will remain.

"Despite the uneven implementation in this state, a lot of people have been
helped by 215," he said. "Yes, it wasn't perfect. No, we didn't set up a
well-regulated system of distribution. All we could do was see that
patients and their families have certain rights when they're sick."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake