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California | Drug War

10th Anniversary of Prop. 215
by CA NORML
Saturday Nov 4th, 2006 8:40 AM
The years since passage of Prop. 215 have seen growing acceptance of medical marijuana. An ever-growing population of physicians and patients are finding marijuana useful for a wide range of conditions, including chronic pain and spasticity due to injury or disease, nausea and appetite loss from HIV and cancer therapy, migraines, arthritis, post-traumatic stress, and as a harm reduction substitute for more dangerous prescription drugs.


10th Anniversary of Prop. 215

California Leads, Feds Still Lag on Medical Marijuana



November 6th* marks the tenth anniversary of California's landmark medical marijuana initiative, Prop. 215, approved by 56% of the voters in 1996. The past decade has seen remarkable progress in cannabis medicine both in California and worldwide. While opposition from the federal government has frustrated 215's stated goal of implementing a fully legal, "safe and affordable" distribution system, a growing network of dispensaries, clinics, and patients groups have made medical marijuana increasingly available to Californians.

The years since passage of Prop. 215 have seen growing acceptance of medical marijuana. An ever-growing population of physicians and patients are finding marijuana useful for a wide range of conditions, including chronic pain and spasticity due to injury or disease, nausea and appetite loss from HIV and cancer therapy, migraines, arthritis, post-traumatic stress, and as a harm reduction substitute for more dangerous prescription drugs. Their experiences have been confirmed by a growing body of scientific studies, which have found that marijuana and its constituents may be effective for an ever-widening list of conditions, including spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, Tourette's syndrome, hepatitis C, intestinal disorders, peripheral neuropathy from HIV or diabetes, and possibly even Alzheimers. Thousands of physicians are now recommending marijuana as medicine to a patient population that is estimated between 200,000 and 350,000. Medical marijuana has come to be legally recognized in eleven states plus Canada and the Netherlands. Fully 80% of Americans support medical marijuana, according to a Time/CNN poll.

Experience of the past decade have refuted the prediction of Prop. 215 opponents that medical marijuana would send a bad message to kids. In fact, usage of marijuana by adolescents in California has declined significantly since Prop. 215 was passed. According to the California Student Survey of Drug, Alcohol and Tobacco Use, past-month marijuana use by 11th graders declined from 42% in 1997-1998 to 30% in 2005-6; from 33% to 19% among 9th graders; from 11% to 7% among 7th graders).

Experience has likewise belied opponents' prediction that Prop. 215 would effectively legalize marijuana. In fact, the number of marijuana arrests in California has scarcely changed since Prop. 215 passed. While the number of marijuana prisoners has declined somewhat from its all-time peak of 1,900 in 1997 to 1,400 today, it still remains ten times higher than in the early 1980s.

Despite this record, the federal government has consistently opposed Prop. 215 as counter to federal law. Rather than adjusting federal regulations to accommodate medical marijuana, it has used federal law to undermine Prop. 215, first by threatening doctors, and then (after being blocked from doing so by a court injunction) by arresting, prosecuting and raiding growers and suppliers of medical marijuana, scores of whom have been arrested on federal charges. While the government has claimed that more FDA studies are needed to determine whether medical marijuana is truly safe and effective, it has deliberately obstructed FDA approved studies and blocked access to marijuana for research purposes. Federal restrictions on research have also made it impossible for patients or providers to test the quality, purity, safety and potency of marijuana used as medicine. More importantly, the threat of federal arrest has made it impossible to establish a legal production and distribution system, forcing producers underground into an unregulated, cash economy.

In the absence of a legal distribution system, patients have turned to a growing network of semi-licit patient's coops, collectives, dispensaries, and delivery services. Despite the federal prohibition, California's medical cannabis market has become increasingly sophisticated, with vendors specializing in extracts, tinctures, edible preparations, clones and growing equipment for home cultivators, and new smokeless vaporizers that eliminate the respiratory hazards of marijuana smoking. In addition, numerous clinics and doctors have begun to specialize in cannabis medicine, affording access to patients who would otherwise lack recommendations. There are now over 250 dispensaries, coops and delivery supplying medical marijuana to Prop 215 patients. Many operate like other legal businesses, offering health insurance, unemployment insurance and other benefits to their employees, and paying sales, business, and payroll taxes to the state. Because the legality of dispensaries remains unsettled under state law, they are regulated by local government. Some jurisdictions, such as San Francisco, Oakland and LA County, have enacted ordinances to license and regulate dispensaries. Others, such as San Diego, have sought to prohibit them, claiming that they are against state and federal law

Opponents have alleged that dispensaries attract problems. The most common are minor nuisance complaints such as parking, loitering, public smoking or odors, which can be addressed by local zoning and nuisance ordinances. In addition, police have complained that dispensaries attract robberies - a problem aggravated by their reliance on cash due to their continued illegality under federal law ≠ but this problem can be suitably controlled by security guards.

A more fundamental objection to dispensaries, and to Prop. 215 in general, is that their clientele appears to be increasingly dominated by a population with less than severe illnesses. Critics note that dispensary patrons are more apt to resemble able-bodied young males than proverbial grannies in wheelchairs. In fact, many patients obtain recommendations for relatively minor and everyday complaints, including anxiety, insomnia, lower back pain, depression, PMS, minor injuries, etc. Critics have charged that doctors are abusing Prop 215 by writing recommendations indiscriminately for trivial or unsubstantiated complaints.

Yet it is far from obvious what advantage there is in cracking down on legal access to medical marijuana. A crackdown will hardly reduce crime, since users will be driven back into the hands of criminal traffickers. On the other hand, the public benefits of the legal market are substantial. In Oakland, the city reported over $25 million in revenues from cannabis business in 2003-4, representing an estimated $2 million in sales taxes alone (Oakland's revenues later plummeted following the city council's closure of the popular Oaksterdam district, prompting the city's voters to pass an initiative, Measure Z, calling for adult use to be "taxed and regulated"). Elsewhere in California, medical cannabis business has soared, to the point where total revenues can be reasonably estimated at half a billion dollars. This in turn represents just a fraction of the state's total marijuana market, which encompasses two million users.

Ten years later, the shockwave of Prop. 215 is still spreading. It remains to be seen how far it will go before the federal ban on medical marijuana is finally lifted. If marijuana is eventually made available in licensed pharmacies like other prescription pharmaceuticals, the dispensaries and clubs may become obsolete. On the other hand, the dispensaries may well prove to be a stepping stone to a wider regime of legal adult access.

Given its uncommon pharmaceutical safety, a strong case can be made for making marijuana available as an over-the-counter drug for all adults. This November 7th, three California cities ≠ Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica - will be voting on initiatives like Oakland's Measure Z, aimed at eliminating penalties against adult use of cannabis. In addition, two states, Nevada and Colorado, will be voting on proposals to legalize adult marijuana use entirely. Ten years after Prop 215, a second marijuana reform shockwave may be in the making.



Dale Gieringer, co-sponsor, Prop 215 - Nov 2, 2006

The election was on Nov. 5th, 1996; Prop 215 became effective that midnight. Nov. 5th also marks the 15th anniversary of the day when San Francisco voters approved the nation's first medical marijuana initiative, Proposition P.

Comments  (Hide Comments)

by also via Dale/CA Norml
Saturday Nov 4th, 2006 8:47 PM


10th Anniversary of Prop. 215
Celebration at SF Gay Community Center, Nov. 4th. 7-10 pm; more
events in Sonoma Co., Santa Barbara

This weekend marks the tenth anniversary of California's
landmark medical marijuana initiative, Prop. 215, approved by 56% of
the voters on Nov. 5th, 1996 (the same day marks the 15th anniversary
of the nation's first medical marijuana initiative, San Francisco's
Prop P). The past decade has seen remarkable progress in cannabis
medicine both in California and worldwide. While opposition from
the federal government has frustrated 215's stated goal of
implementing a fully legal, "safe and affordable" distribution
system, a growing network of dispensaries, clinics, and patients
groups have made medical marijuana increasingly available to
Californians.....
(Full text at http://www.canorml.org/news/10thAnniversaryProp215.htm)
.... After 10 years, the shockwave of Prop. 215 is still
spreading. It remains to be seen how far it will go before the
federal ban on medical marijuana is finally lifted. If marijuana is
eventually made available in licensed pharmacies like other
prescription pharmaceuticals, the dispensaries and clubs may become
obsolete. On the other hand, the dispensaries may well prove to be
a stepping stone to a wider regime of legal adult access.
Given its uncommon pharmaceutical safety, a strong case can be
made for making marijuana available as an over-the-counter drug for
all adults. This November 7th, three California cities - Santa
Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica - will be voting on initiatives
like Oakland's Measure Z, aimed at eliminating penalties against
adult use of cannabis. In addition, two states, Nevada and Colorado,
will be voting on proposals to legalize adult marijuana use entirely.
Ten years after Prop 215, a second marijuana reform shockwave may be
in the making.

- Dale Gieringer, co-sponsor, Prop. 215 & Oakland Measure Z

On Saturday, November 4th, there will be a celebration of the
10th anniversary of Prop. 215 at the San Francisco Gay Community
Center, 1800 Market St, from 7 pm to 10 pm, with Prop. 215 author
Dennis Peron and other sponsors, including: Terence Hallinan, Dale
Gieringer, and Dr. Tod Mikuriya. Free entertainment & refreshments.

November 4th also marks the Sonoma Alliance for Medical
Marijuana's 8th Annual Cannabis Harvest Dance at the Sebastopol
Community Center from 7 pm to midnight. Tickets $20 at the door.

November 4th is also the date of the 8th Annual
Santa Barbara Hemp Festival in Isla Vista at Anisq'oyo' Park
(Embarcadero del Mar) 10 am to 5 pm.

VOTE FOR CHANGE NOVEMBER 7th - California Election Guide on
Marijuana and Drug Reform issues
http://drugsense.org/dpfca/ElectionGuide2006_11.pdf

--
----
California NORML (415) 563-5858 // canorml [at] igc.org
2215-R Market St. #278, San Francisco CA 94114
by SignOnSanDiego.com repost
Monday Nov 6th, 2006 1:17 PM


Medical marijuana remains in legal limbo

Prop. 215 approved by voters decade ago

By Jeff McDonald
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

November 6, 2006

NANCEE E. LEWIS / Union-Tribune
Paul Cody said he harvested his medical marijuana crop early to avoid
losing it to another bust.

Paul Cody has titanium rods jutting up either side of his spine. Without
them, he couldn't sit upright in his wheelchair.

Over the years, doctors prescribed Vicodin, Valium and a medicine chest
of other drugs to soothe his constant pain, but the narcotics killed his
appetite and kept him awake at night. Until he started smoking
marijuana, Cody could barely sit still for a movie.

Ten years ago, 56 percent of California voters decided that people with
medical problems like Cody's should be able to grow and smoke marijuana
on their physician's recommendation.

But the potential of Proposition 215, which conflicts squarely with
federal laws that classify marijuana among the most dangerous drugs, has
never been realized.

Thousands of California patients have no legal access to medical
marijuana. Thousands of others worry they may be found out and arrested
for cultivating too many plants or storing too much dried pot, because
most cities and counties haven't passed the laws needed to regulate the
dispensation of marijuana used for medical purposes.

Unscrupulous and profit-minded dispensary operators have taken advantage
of the absence of uniform rules, opening storefronts anywhere they can
and selling marijuana to unqualified patients.

Two years ago, drug agents raided Cody's house in Jamul and uprooted his
tiny garden.

"They took 'em - three lousy plants," said Cody, 32, who was paralyzed
in a 1991 motorcycle crash. This year, he harvested his modest crop
weeks before it matured for fear of losing it to another bust.

It was no secret that most of the law enforcement community opposed the
medical use of marijuana when the issue landed on the state ballot in 1996.

Lesser known, however, is the detailed and coordinated assault many
federal, state and local officials conducted once it passed.

In the past decade, police departments in dozens of California cities
have joined federal drug agents in more than 100 raids on medical
marijuana farms, cooperatives and dispensaries.

After a July sweep across San Diego County, U.S. Attorney Carol Lam and
San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis used a news conference
to issue a warning to dispensary operators: Close or face the
consequences. They all closed, and the local marketplace for medical
marijuana dried up almost overnight.

Three San Diego County supervisors are so strongly opposed to
Proposition 215 that they voted to sue the state to try to overturn
medical marijuana laws rather than implement them. Oral arguments in the
case, which was driven by Supervisors Bill Horn, Dianne Jacob and Pam
Slater-Price, are scheduled to begin this month.

Ten states have joined California in passing medical marijuana
legislation, and public opinion polls show that respondents favor
medical use of marijuana by 3 to 1.

Yet no one has come up with a way to resolve the impasse between states
and the federal government, which can impose criminal penalties for what
the states have made legal.

"It's a study in politicians evading the will of voters, which they do
not agree with," said Mark Bluemel, an attorney who has defended medical
marijuana patients. "We have San Diego being among some rogue counties
that refuse to obey this law."

But Horn, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, said the state
has put cities and counties in an impossible position.

"I'm not going to enact a state law that's in violation of federal law
until I hear from a judge that it's legal," he said. "I'm not
necessarily challenging the will of the people."

State politicians also contributed to the failure to implement
Proposition 215. It took seven years to get clarifying legislation
through the statehouse and signed into law by the governor.

When Senate Bill 420 finally went into effect on Jan. 1, 2004, it
established statewide guidelines outlining the number of marijuana
plants a patient could legally grow and directed county health
departments to issue identification to qualified patients so police
would know when drug use was legitimate and when it was being abused.

But by a measure of nearly 4 to 1, California cities have chosen to
outlaw pot dispensaries rather than to regulate them. In communities
such as San Francisco, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz, which have all
embraced Proposition 215, elected leaders say the dispensary model has
worked fairly well.

Government officials didn't waste any time reacting to the passage of
Proposition 215.

Hours after polls closed Nov. 5, 1996, former state Attorney General Dan
Lungren, now a congressman from Gold River in Northern California, sent
a memo to every district attorney, sheriff and police chief across the
state.

The three-page letter laid out what would become the standard for
dealing with Proposition 215. It advised police and prosecutors to judge
marijuana cases on the basis of whether suspects could reasonably cite
medical need as a defense at trial - a legal position called an
affirmative defense - rather than simply letting them go if their
paperwork was in order.

"We were confronted with both the underlying law (prohibiting marijuana)
and the proposition," Lungren said in a recent telephone interview. "We
were trying to inform law enforcement officers what would be proper
conduct."

Two weeks later, Lungren and the attorney general of Arizona, which had
also passed a medical marijuana initiative, warned their counterparts
across the country to be wary of the rising medical marijuana movement.

On Dec. 6, local, state and federal officials convened a strategy
session in Washington to deal with the Arizona and California
propositions. The meeting focused on ways to undermine the
voter-approved initiative, including going after physicians who
recommended the drug, establishing a national group to fight
legalization of marijuana and calling a special election to repeal the
law in California.

Records of the session contend that medical marijuana supporters seek to
"legitimize illicit drug use through 'medicalization' approach" and take
the effort nationwide.

Three days later, another memo from Lungren's office to federal drug
enforcement officials clarified that local police officers could arrest
people suspected of breaking federal law.

Medical marijuana proponents complain that government officials
deliberately undercut Proposition 215 as soon as it passed.

"Once they came up with affirmative defense as a legal interpretation,
it was game, set and match," said Patrick McCartney, a medical marijuana
activist and freelance journalist who has compiled an extensive history
on the government response to the growing political movement.

"If law enforcement who were so inclined could arrest and prosecute
qualified medical marijuana users, then what did voters vote on?"
McCartney wondered.

Legal scholars question the federal government's role in medical
marijuana debates within individual states. Several believe U.S. drug
agents should enforce federal laws but also respect state rights.

However, the Drug Enforcement Administration has recruited local
agencies to join task forces that continue to raid dispensaries and
cooperatives.

"The California medical marijuana law created an exception to California
law, but could not do so for federal law," said Erwin Chemerinsky, a
constitutional law professor at Duke University. "I wish federal
authorities would use their discretion to respect the California
initiative, but they clearly have not done so."

Gerald Uelman is a Santa Clara University law professor who is awaiting
an appellate decision on a medical marijuana lawsuit he is fighting on
behalf of the city and county of Santa Cruz. Those two governments have
led many of the efforts to implement Proposition 215.

Uelman said federal authorities "crossed the line in their effort to
impose their agenda" on state officials.

"This is still an issue where the politicians are behind the curve, in
terms of the will of the voters," he said. "That's true across the
board, not just in California."

Jessica Reeves lives in a Hillcrest studio and usually relies on friends
to get the marijuana she needs to relieve her constant pain. Sometimes
she drives to dispensaries in Riverside County or in Los Angeles that
have not yet been raided.

Two years ago, the 29-year-old medical assistant contracted necrotizing
fasciitis, the flesh-eating bacteria. Doctors saved her life, but she
lost much of her right arm.

Nineteen operations later, Reeves said smoking pot is the only thing
that helps her live a near-to-normal life.

"When I turned 18, I voted for Proposition 215," she said. "I didn't
know 10 years later that I would need it. Now I can't get it because
they closed all the dispensaries down."

------------------------------------------------------------------------
Jeff McDonald: (619) 542-4585; jeff.mcdonald [at] uniontrib.com
<http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/politics/MAILTO: href="mailto:jeff.mcdonald@uniontrib.com">jeff.mcdonald [at] uniontrib.com>





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