HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Federal Stance On State's Medical Marijuana Law
Pubdate: Tue, 24 Sep 2002
Source: Oroville Mercury-Register (CA)
Contact:  2002 Oroville Mercury Register
Author: Chris Rizo
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


SACRAMENTO - Declaring the war on drugs has unjustly been extended to the 
seriously ill in California who use marijuana on the advice of their 
physicians, hundreds protested at the state Capitol on Monday, calling on 
the federal government to leave people's medicine alone.

The estimated 500 demonstrators, who included public officials from around 
the state, came by the busloads to urge federal officials to respect 
California's landmark, voter-approved medical marijuana law.

Aboard one of those buses, Marie Santiago, 56, said she made the eight-hour 
trip from Los Angeles to protest the federal government's recent crackdown 
against medical marijuana growers and those seriously ill and injured 
patients who, like herself, smoke pot "so life is worth living."

"Before I got cancer, I had never even taken a drag off a cigarette," 
Santiago said. "But the chemo made me so sick that I had to do something. 
I'm in pain. I am not a criminal."

But the grandmother of five is a criminal in the eyes of the federal 
government, and she knows it.

Also picketing on the Capitol's south lawn was Roger Moore of South 
Pasadena, who said he has been smoking pot since 1996. He credits his daily 
toke with helping him to offset the side effects of his chemotherapy 
treatments for an illness he declined to disclose.

"I can take a hit - or two - of marijuana, and not have to get up the first 
thing in the morning to puke my brains out, like I did for years," said 
Moore. He got his medical marijuana from the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource 
Center until federal officials raided the West Hollywood facility on Oct. 
25, 2001, confiscating nearly 900 plants and the records of its members.

Santiago and Moore are among the hundreds of medical marijuana users caught 
in the middle of an intensifying turf battle between state officials and 
the federal government.

The discord centers on whether the federal government should continue to 
enforce its unequivocal ban on marijuana, or whether it should turn a blind 
eye to certain cases, since Californians overwhelmingly approved a 1996 
ballot initiative that allows for the use of marijuana with a physician's 
signed recommendation.

California is one of nine states where voters have allowed physicians to 
prescribe marijuana to patients suffering from such conditions as AIDS, 
cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Earlier this month, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer sent a letter 
to U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Drug Enforcement Administration 
chief Asa Hutchinson, requesting a meeting to discuss recent actions 
against growers by the DEA.

Until recently, the DEA adhered to a Clinton administration guideline that 
stated federal agents would not pursue cases of marijuana cultivation if 
fewer than 100 plants were involved. But so far under the Bush 
administration, several small-scale medical marijuana growers have faced 
federal indictment.

Among those caught up in larger busts is Bryan James Epis, co-founder of 
the Medical Marijuana Caregivers in Chico, who now faces up to 40 years in 
federal prison for conspiring to manufacture at least 1,000 pot plants in 
his home, located about a block from Chico High School.

Advocates on Monday lashed out at federal officials for the conviction and 
upcoming sentencing of Epis, 35, who is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 7.

Steph Sherer, a spokeswoman for Americans for Safe Access, said Epis is an 
unfortunate casualty from the conflict between the federal law banning 
marijuana use and California's law, which allows patients to grow their own 

"This should have been a fight between state officials and the federal 
government," Sherer said. "But it's patients who are fighting the federal 

Carrying a sign reading "My dad isn't a criminal," Epis' 8-year-old 
daughter, Ashley, said, "The only criminal thing I see is that they are 
taking him away from me, and I don't appreciate that," she said, leading a 
candlelight march around the Sacramento County Jail, where her father has 
been held since a jury found him guilty in June.

Monday's protest follows an all-but-officially-sponsored Sept. 18 marijuana 
giveaway in front of Santa Cruz City Hall, by which protesters - including 
city officials - objected to the Sept. 5 raid on the Wo/Men's Alliance for 
Medical Marijuana.

During the raid, federal agents seized 130 pot plants and arrested Michael 
and Valerie Corral, the couple that founded the dispensary and helped write 
Proposition 215.

"We are talking about people who don't smoke marijuana to get high," said 
Dr. Philip Denney, a general practitioner who specializes in providing 
medical marijuana consultations. "We are talking about people who are 
taking an alternative to (more dangerous) medications," he said.

"Marijuana is not the only drug; and it's not always the best one," the 
Loomis-based physician said. "But it is an alternative that some people 
should explore."

San Francisco County District Attorney Terence Hallinan, an ardent 
proponent of medical marijuana, said Monday that the federal government 
should take a hands-off approach when it comes to medical marijuana 

While the federal government is resolved that marijuana serves no useful 
medical purpose, so have the people of California concluded that marijuana 
"saves lives, eases pain and reduces suffering," he said.

"I urge the federal government to stay out of our business, and leave 
health and safety to those best able to deal with it - the people of the 
state of California," Hallinan continued.

"We have a lot of compassion for those who are suffering from pain," said 
DEA Special Agent Richard Meyer, spokesman for the administration's San 
Francisco field office. "But we cannot disagree with (the protesters') 
position more.

"There is no medical association or scientific organization that has come 
out to say that marijuana is a medication," he continued, adding that the 
DEA has a policy of pursuing traffickers and not users - including medical 
marijuana patients.

While federal authorities have largely left alone physicians who suggest or 
advocate the use of marijuana to alleviate such complaints as pain and 
nausea, the DEA has stepped up pressure on individuals, pursuing 
small-scale medical marijuana growers, advocates say.

In recent months, they point to several raids on growers with no connection 
to marijuana trafficking, which is explicitly prohibited by Prop. 215.

On Aug. 15, DEA agents destroyed a six-plant garden belonging to Diane 
Monson of Oroville, even after Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey 
urged them to leave her personal-use crop alone, which complied with the 
county's six-plant limit.

On the same day, a similar scene erupted when federal drug agents raided 
the garden of Alan MacFarlane, a cancer patient who was earlier acquitted 
in a Sonoma County courtroom of growing 100 plants for his personal use.

In the second raid against him, authorities confiscated 128 plants, which 
MacFarlane said he was cultivating for 10 others - all in compliance with 
Sonoma County's medical marijuana guidelines.

To avert future medical marijuana busts, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., 
introduced legislation in July that would re-schedule marijuana, allowing 
physicians to prescribe pot to patients.

His proposal has gained little support in Washington.

"I really don't know what the big deal is here," said Mark Woo, a 30- 
year-old East Los Angeles engineer. "I am just trying to live without 
unbearable pain. Why can't people understand that?"
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