As I write this article, the medical marijuana situation in California is taking a turn for the better. Today is the first day of business for the new year, and the new Governor and Attorney General are being sworn in. Grey Davis and Bill Lockyer are the first Democrats in 16 years to hold these offices.
Davis has worked in government most of his adult life. Starting with the iconoclastic governor Jerry Brown, he continued on in minor elective office until this run for the Governorship. He is much more interested in quality of life rather than law and order issues. This is in tempo with the thinking of most Californians, who believe that crime is under control. Although he made no mention of cannabis during the campaign, Davis’ allocation of state resources will probably reduce the anti-pot budget.
Bill Lockyer has been a consistent supporter of marijuana law reform during 26 years in the state legislature. Lockyer says he voted for California’s medical marijuana initiative (Prop. 215) and opposed the previous Attorney General’s “zealous determination to not even allow this medical experiment.” After experiencing the cancer deaths of his mother and younger sister, “I concluded that if we can give them morphine, why can’t we give them marijuana?”
Former Governor Pete Wilson, and his Attorney General Dan Lundgren, both vehemently opposed any use of marijuana, even medically. When Prop. 215 passed by a 56% margin in 1996, Lundgren set up a task force to hinder its implementation. Running for Governor on an anti- choice, anti-pot, pro-gun, law-and-order platform, he garnered less than 40% of the vote, an exceedingly low figure.
This makes for some interesting politics. The state Republican administration worked closely with the Democratic federal government to shut down the clubs and their suppliers. Now with a Democratic state administration, the two levels of government are on a collision course. The federal government maintains that all marijuana use, including medical, remains a federal offense.
The November election was not a good one for the federal government’s drug policies. There were seven drug law initiatives in five states. In Oregon voters passed decriminalization and medical initiatives. In Arizona an initiative making all drugs legal for medicine passed for a second time.
In Alaska, Nevada and Washington medical initiatives passed. These affirmative votes change the states’ laws everywhere except Nevada, which requires a second vote, to be held in two years. In Washington DC, the nation’s capitol, exit polls showed a 69% approval for medical marijuana, but the federal government is not allowing the votes to be officially counted.
In most states, marijuana initiatives won by a greater margin than the winning candidates. This voter support lays solid ground for politicians who want to step out and change drug policies.
New clubs in California
The epicenter of the medical marijuana movement is the San Francisco Bay area. In Oakland, the municipal government previously appointed Oakland Medical Club officers, employees and suppliers as “Officers of the City of Oakland.” When the club was shut down by federal marshals, the City Council passed a medical emergency resolution. Nate Miley, lead Councilman on the issue, and his aide Joe DeVries, intend to make sure that medical marijuana is available to all who need it.
Jerry Brown is being inaugurated today as Oakland’s mayor after winning a landslide vote in June. He signed the California decriminalization bill when he was governor in 1975. Before he ran for Mayor, he hosted an issue-oriented radio show. He covered drug and medical marijuana issues in some very positive forums.
Since Dennis Peron’s Compassionate Use Club and the Oakland Club were closed, at least 10 new clubs have opened. These clubs keep a much lower profile than the first ones, but are still serving the patients. Experience has shown that the federal government gets involved when a club gets publicity.
When the US military evacuated Vietnam, commentators said that the voters don’t like long wars. The Drug War has been this war-loving country’s longest and costliest war ever, and has resulted in the most casualties. Now it is being challenged for the first time, by medical compassion and lack of voter interest.
With the recent political changes we should soon see some more bricks removed from the bottom of the marijuana prohibition wall.