cannabis buyers’ clubs are evolving into cannabis
some doctors have been intimidated by federal threats,
but others have been moved to become more vocal in their resistance
a test case is moving laboriously through a confused
and intransigent Sonoma County court system
a bill which proposes, among other things, to authorize
medical marijuana research in California, is on its way to the state legislature.
- Officials who have sworn to uphold law are being dragged
to acceptance of the voters’ mandate – like a small child, hanging hysterical
and limp from a parent’s arm.
By Rose Ann Fuhrman
??? Passage of California’s
medical marijuana law in November 1996 was a huge victory, but it is only
the legal foundation upon which to construct a system that protects a physician’s
right to recommend marijuana, honours a patient’s right to use it, and
provides access that is dignified and affordable.
??? The process is still
at an embryonic stage, and the struggle to maintain the integrity of the
new law is being waged in communities and counties, and defended against
assaults launched by top officials of the California and US government.
The same grass-roots organizations that
authored and worked to pass the law, have been working to ensure its efficient
and humane implementation:
Buyers’ Club reopens & sets new goals
??? The San Francisco Buyer’s
Club (SFBC), which was raided and shut down in 1996, has reopened as the
San Francisco Cannabis Cultivators’ Club, with the approval of San Francisco
Superior Court Judge Garcia.
Dennis Peron, club founder, has launched
a campaign to stop CAMP, the state-financed Campaign Against Marijuana
Planting. “We canvassed our supporters about what could be done to ensure
the availability of cheap and pure marijuana to the patients who need it,”
said Peron. “The response was overwhelming: stop the helicopter flyovers
and seizures of marijuana in the production areas.”
issue the feds
??? In January, physicians
and patients filed a class action suit in federal court against US “drug
czar” General Barry McCaffrey, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration
Thomas Constantine, Secretary of the US Department of Health and Human
Services Donna Shalala, and US Attorney General Janet Reno.
??? Dr Marcus Conant, a
San Francisco specialist in AIDS treatment and lead plaintiff said, “The
federal government has threatened me and doctors like me with dire consequences
for simply discussing medical marijuana with my patients.”
An attorney for the plaintiffs, Graham
Boyd, said, “Our view is that the federal effort to gag physicians is blatantly
unconstitutional. Discussions between a physician and patient about the
risks and benefits of medical marijuana constitute protected speech under
the First Amendment.”
??? Government opposition
to medical marijuana suffered another substantial blow this January, when
the New England Journal of Medicine endorsed medical marijuana, referring
to the “striking relief” thousands of patients have obtained and calling
the federal government’s policy “inhumane.”
??? A group of San Francisco
Bay Area doctors turned the blow into a one-two punch by announcing that
same day that 75 studies since 1970 demonstrate the herb’s effectiveness.
“They all came to the same conclusion,”
said Kevin Zeese, attorney and author of the review. “Marijuana is a safe
and effective medicine.”
??? Meanwhile, in Sonoma
County, Alan Martinez and Jason Miller are testing the new law. Martinez
suffers from epilepsy and used marijuana with his doctor’s approval, and
Miller is his caregiver. In 1996 Martinez’s small plants were seized and
he and Miller were arrested. The outcome of their cases may help ease the
way for others who qualify, as they apparently do, for the medical marijuana
patient and caregiver exemption.
??? Martinez’s attorney,
William Panzer, is confident. He knows the new law well, he helped write
“I know Alan is not going to jail for
three and one half years,” said Panzer, after a February 1997 court appearance,
adding that neither should Martinez and Miller be subjected to the stress
of numerous court dates, including a trial, in the meantime.
“It’s been a grave infringement on our
privacy,” said Martinez, who doesn’t enjoy being the centre of attention.
There is also a financial hardship: Martinez lost his job as a result of
the arrest, and he still hasn’t completely paid an increasingly irate bailbondsman
who requires $1,100.
??? Yet Martinez is determined:
“I could take diversion, but the principle outweighs the diversion plan.
I’d be abandoning people who have AIDS and cancer.”
??? “The purpose of the
new law is to take patients out of the criminal system,” explained panzer.
“The law clearly states that people who qualify ?are not subject
to prosecution.’ Only attorneys could argue about what that means.”
The Sonoma County District Attorney’s
office argues that the phrase means the defendant can offer an affirmative
defense at trial, and the local judges have gone along with that. Martinez’s
doctor would be expected to testify in open court-in a county whose sheriff
was quoted recently in the press as threatening doctors who recommend marijuana
with legal action. An appeal is imminent.
??? In early February, California
Senator John Vasconcellos announced plans to introduce “The Proposition
215 Implementation Act of 1997″ in the state legislature.
Vasconcellos has helped carry the medical
marijuana standard before, and he says the bill will:
- i) require that physicians who recommend medical
marijuana be licensed in California
ii) provide procedures for patients who are minors
iii) ensure defendants’ right to claim the medical
marijuana defense in a pre-trial hearing as well as in any subsequent hearing
iv) require that the University of California
establish a Medical Marijuana Research Center and fund it with $2 million
per year for three years;
v) create a task force to study medical marijuana
distribution options and report to the California legislature.
“Now the work begins to ensure that the people
of California’s policy is translated into the most effective practical
terms for the Californians it’s intended to benefit,” said Vasconcellos.