Friday, December 16, 2005

MEDICAL MARIJUANA AND DEMOCRACY IN CALIFORNIA

I’m lucky to live in sunny California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana in the United States. That was in 1996. We all were naïve to think that when we passed the law by voting that it meant that we would immediately have the law put into effect. If that had happened then we could grow marijuana for ourselves and have it in our possession and nobody would be able to arrest us as long as. Or at least that was the way it was supposed to work. In reality, it depended on where you lived in California. If you lived in Frisco, medical marijuana was already legal, with Peron’s big medical marijuana club one of the biggest nightclubs in town, although they shut him down soon after he financed Prop. 215, the medical marijuana law. But if you lived in Southern Cal, then you could still get busted for a roach, even if you were dying of cancer. It was a big joke, how they enforced the law differently in different places. You had to hope that you were lucky enough to be sick in the right place, or else you could get arrested by the locals, and of course you could always get arrested by the feds, because they don’t believe that our law is valid.

There’s been a lot of court cases and arrests for medical marijuana, and it always shocks me and my friends. Recently the feds and locals swooped in on medical marijuana clubs in San Diego. You would think that San Diego and the federal government would have bigger things to worry about.

But this week, only a couple of weeks before Christmas, the DEA raided 13 San Diego-area marijuana dispensaries.

As always, the feds have easy answers for why they do what they do. John Fernandes, a DEA spokesperson, said that the medical clubs were “nothing more than a front for distributing marijuana.” Well, yes, that’s what medical pot clinics do, they distribute pot. Some of us believe that Prop. 215 requires the government to provide safe access to marijuana. Some counties and cities have created regulations that authorize medical marijuana clinics. They don’t want old people or sick people to have to buy pot from street dealers. The dispensaries do the buying and weighing and sorting, so sick people can just come in, buy and leave. Apparently, that offends the DEA and some local politicians.

Last month, San Diego County became the first county in California to defy a state-ordered medical marijuana identification card and registry program. The order was contained in 2004 legislation, SB 420, which ordered counties to provide pot ID cards to qualified patients as part of what the state believed was required by Prop. 215 language. The county supervisors, who apparently do not believe in democracy, told the state that they would not comply with the card and registry program, even though the county’s attorneys told them the county would get sued if they failed to comply. And on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors defied the Senate bill at the same time they voted to seek to overturn Prop. 215 using a court challenge that could invalidate it statewide!

County Counsel John Sansone said his office expects to file a federal lawsuit against Prop. 215 in 2006. The lawsuit, Sansone said, will argue that the Controlled Substances Act, the law passed by Congress in 1970 that classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug in the same category as heroin, supercedes any state law that legalizes marijuana for medical use. The US Supreme Court has already ruled that federal prohibition trumps California law.

“The question is whether or not Prop. 215 is written in such a way that it conflicts with federal law,” Sansone said. “Our argument is going to be that we believe they conflict to the point of crossing the line.”

Sansone said he advised the supervisors on the pros and cons of filing such a lawsuit but wouldn’t comment further, citing attorney-client privilege. He said that from the beginning, when the supervisors were only going to challenge SB 420, he’d told them it would be an “uphill battle.”

“But we’ve had difficult uphill battles before and won them, and some we’ve lost,” Sansone said, adding that his own staff would handle the case. “Taxpayers aren’t going to pay any more or any less for the attorney staff time.”

Maybe not, but taxpayer money will be used to help the feds squash a state law that the taxpayers voted for, and will divert resources away from other cases that Sansone’s office could be prosecuting.

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer has supported Prop. 215 in the past, arguing that “States are in, by far, the best position to determine whether and under what circumstances the use of cannabis by seriously ill patients should be permitted.”

Dale Gieringer, who heads California NORML (National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws), said that a previous attorney general who opposed 215, Dan Lungren, consulted with federal officials and ultimately decided not to challenge the law. “Lungren declared that 215 was constitutional, since states have a right to decide which laws to enforce,” Gieringer said. He added that a subsequent challenge targeting doctors who recommended marijuana to patients (Conant v. Walters) was struck down in federal court in 2002. In 2003, Angel Raich and Diane Monson sued the federal government to block DEA agents from seizing marijuana from qualified patients. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal government’s right to do so, but Raich attorney Randy Barnett said that the ruling in no way affected California’s medical-marijuana laws.

California legal expert Glenn Smith told the media that the feds cannot challenge 215- it has to be done from within the state. Looks like the feds can thank San Diego politicians for doing the fed's work for them.

“The federal government can’t bring a lawsuit to stop an unconstitutional state law. It has to be somebody who is affected by that law and injured by it,” he said.

Smith said the challenge to 215 can’t be about whether 215 is legal according to federal law. The county supervisors will have to prove someone is negatively affected by the law. The supervisors might argue that SB 420’s requirement of participation in a registry and card program could negatively affect the county because “they’re being required to spend money by this state law in a way that is a waste to taxpayers’ money.”

Of course, one might instead argue that challenging a voter-approved law is a waste of tax money. One might argue that helping sick people avoid the use of harmful pharmaceutical drugs by using safe medical cannabis is a way of SAVING tax money. But don't try those arguments on Republican County Supervisor Bill Horn, easily the most vocal critic of medical marijuana, who says that any county support for Prop. 215 or SB 420 would send the wrong message, especially to kids. He compares his opposition to medical-marijuana laws as being similar to Rosa Parks’ stand against segregation laws, which makes no sense at all. Rosa Parks stood up against racism. Prop. 215 stands up against federal prohibition and for state's rights. There is no realistic analogy between Rosa Parks and anti-marijuana politicians like Republican Horn. In June, a county grand jury criticized supervisors for failing to implement SB 420, saying the board had been “blinded by its prejudices against medical marijuana.”

The December raids against medpot clinics was carried out by federal agents and San Diego police. Assistant Police Chief Cheryl Meyers said that the raids were not the federal government’s idea.

“We were convinced that the evidence was there” that the 13 locations raided were acting outside the boundaries of Prop. 215 and the city’s medical-marijuana guidelines, Meyers alleged. She said state and city laws do not allow for “caregivers,” which is what the dispensaries are supposed to be, to make a profit.

“They’re jacking up the prices so steep that they’re making a profit off of illness, and they were very loose in who they sold the marijuana to.” She added that in most cases, the dispensaries had more pot on hand than city law allows. The guidelines allow caregivers to have two pounds of pot and 48 plants. Most dispensaries had more that that, she said. One had psychedelic mushrooms; several had hashish. My reaction is, so what, who cares? Big deal. This is what warrants a federal raid??

Meyers said that the dispensaries were magnets for guns, greed and violent crime. Even local pot activists said that too many fast-buck dealers had moved in to the San Diego medpot club scene to sell pot for high prices.

During the raids, police officers allegedly found a man in a Loma Portal dispensary parking lot who had two pounds of pot, $2,600 in cash and a firearm on him, and another guy coming into a Kearny Mesa dispensary with two pounds of pot who said he’d picked the stuff up in Palm Springs and had heard he could unload it at the dispensary for $3,000 and an $800 profit. Police say that pot clubs draw people who want to rob them. Whoa. Big deal. Bars and 7-11’s are magnets for robbers and gun crime a lot more than pot clubs are. Instead of busting the medical dispensaries, the police should guard them!! If you want to shut down businesses that are magnets for crime, shut down the bars, the whorehouses, the crack houses and the convenience stores. And banks too, there are often robberies at banks, so they ought to be shut down so that the public isn't endangered by robbers.

Authorities began investigating San Diego's dispensaries six months ago, prompted by complaints from neighbors. Instead of providing marijuana to seriously ill patients as voters had intended, dispensaries allegedly sold marijuana to healthy young adults, police alleged, and there have also been armed robberies of clinics.

"The message here is to essentially notify the community through our actions that these dispensaries posed a severe public hazard," said the DEA’s Fernandes.

But how severe a public hazard do they pose? I used to go swimming off San Diego, until the ocean filled up with defecation from LA and Tijuana. I got tired of swimming with Mr. Turdman and Mr. Floaty, but nobody enforces the pollution laws. And there’s a bunch of gangs operating in the San Diego metro area and they will steal your car and cd’s and break into your house. There’s a bunch of illegal people coming across the border every night and sometimes they break into your house because they are hungry. I guess those situations are potential public hazards but the DEA and police are more interested in protecting us from pot-smoking paraplegics and the people who provide herb to them.

And isn’t it a severe public hazard to those who need medical marijuana, people dying of cancer, HIV and other diseases, who now have to go without their marijuana or try to score it on the street, because the DEA and the San Diego cops have shut down the pot clubs? Seems like that’s a pretty big hazard. Medical marijuana helps people, you can see that from the http://www.advancednutrientsmedical.ca/ website, where there are articles about medical marijuana. It's some website that sells Advanced Nutrients hydroponic plant food for people with hydroponics gardens, which is used by medical growers so they can get really kickass medicine out of their gardens.

It's a bit puzzling that the city council of San Diego has nothing better to do with their time except try to overturn the will of the voters of California, by challenging Prop. 215, what’s up with that? Seems to me like those politicians need to find a better job, maybe caring for sick and dying people, so they learn compassion. Why do some people in America seem so intent on harming others? Why do people with power use it to harm innocent and harmless people?

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