When Dennis Peron, patients, and a factionalized group of medpot advocates convinced voters to pass America’s first voter-sponsored medical marijuana law (Proposition 215) in 1996, they looked forward to what the law’s simple language promised: the right of patients to grow and possess marijuana without threat of arrest or prosecution.
But anybody who has been paying attention to the government’s handling of Prop. 215 knows that the new law’s fate shows how democracy and the Constitutional guarantee of a government “of the people, by the people,” is under threat in the United States.
Harassment of medpot users, growers and providers by federal agents, presidential appointees, and judges, in the form of lawsuits, raids, rigged trials, threats to doctors, and injunctions, was to be expected- after all, the new state law conflicted with federal law.
Since 1996, federal prosecutors and judges have closed down, raided, infiltrated or otherwise destroyed individuals and organizations trying to implement the new law.
The Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, Dennis Peron’s five-story famous Market Street Cannabis Club, CHAMPS, the Oakland Cannabis Resource Center, Mike Foley, Santa Rosa’s Aiko Compassion Club, Pot-TV’s Steve and Michele Kubby, Dale and Molly Fry, Tod Mikuriya, Renee Boje, Ryan Landers, Jeff Jones, Ed Rosenthal, Ken Hayes, Lynn and Judy Osburn, and hundreds of other individuals and cooperatives have been brutally attacked by federal, state and local authorities.
The protections granted under 215, which seem clear enough if you read the text of the law, have been trashed by state and federal prosecutors and police.
Most Californians and medpot users believed that 215 would prevent the arrest and prosecution of patients who had a valid doctor’s recommendation for marijuana.
In practice, depending on where patients live, the circumstances of their arrest, and whether they come to the attention of the feds, 215 has only provided an “affirmative defense” after arrest. Most patients and pot providers ensnared in medpot wars must spend money on bail and attorneys while arguing in court during preliminary hearings or jury trials that they are protected by Prop. 215.
Sometimes, after defendants have gone through months of torment and spent thousands of dollars, charges are dropped, or judges or juries agree with them that they never should have been arrested.
Yet, federal defendants are barred from mentioning medical marijuana to juries, and the Oakland Club’s Jeff Jones was recently arrested be federal agents just for trying to tell people that Californians legalized medical marijuana and that this fact should influence a federal medpot trial outside which Jones was protesting.
Eight other states have followed California’s lead by legalizing medical marijuana. Arizona and Nevada voters will have the chance this fall to vote on ballot initiatives that will even further liberalize state marijuana laws.
But as long as US Attorney General John Ashcroft, DEA chief Asa Hutchinson, drug czar John Walters, federal prosecutors, and local authorities continue enforcing old marijuana laws rather than respecting the will of voters, any change in state law that contradicts existing federal law is likely to result in more grief than relief.
The medpot battle has produced a few heroes.
California medical cannabis advocates are some of the few people in America willing to stand up for their rights in the new climate of compliant fear created after 9-11.
A majority of Americans have adopted a “scared sheep mentality,” knowing that their government is wrong about medpot, foreign wars, the environment, and other issues, but refusing to do anything about it. In California, however, pot advocates have taken to the streets, shutting down DEA offices across the state, driving DEA chief Asa Hutchinson out of San Francisco during his swaggering visit to the city in February, conducting hunger strikes to protest the government’s attempt to steal the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center’s building, and picketing outside courtrooms where 215-qualified defendants with as few as 2 marijuana plants are on trial facing prison terms.
These courageous protests have received paltry media coverage, and raids and arrest continue. Patients are beginning to wonder what it will take to get police, prosecutors and federal officials to respect democracy and freedom.
Northern California medpot grower Samantha L. is typical of Californians who contacted Cannabis Culture to complain about how Prop. 215 is being mangled there.
“They always said we had to change the law,” Samantha explains. “So we changed it, but they keep arresting us. It has really opened my eyes about the government in general, and how our country is being run by people who can be really described as tyrants.”
The 36-year-old grower and medpot user qualifies under Prop. 215 because of her medical recommendation for marijuana as a painkiller and anti-inflammatory agent.
She was already growing her own medicine when the law passed. She says she has never grown more than a dozen plants, never sold marijuana, and “lives like a paranoid recluse” to avoid detection.
“You hear horror stories; you know people with AIDS and cancer who get busted for a few plants and even if the locals let them off eventually, they lose their plants, their grow equipment, their homes, their bank accounts, their health, and feds might come in a year later to prosecute again,” she laments. “Or if you are too sick to grow and don’t know anybody, you go to a club to get it, but they are closing all the clubs down. What I don’t understand is that we voted it and why is nobody respecting it? Why is it legal for the government to do what is clearly against what we the people have decided? What does that say about our country?”
Samantha says she is encouraged by “isolated incidents of success” where county officials, police, juries or prosecutors have affirmed Prop. 215 in policy and in practice. But the pervasive reality, she argues, is that the voter-approved law has not been implemented uniformly or “with compassion,” and that sick and dying people, and their caregivers, are still being harmed.
According to Samantha, a backlash is on its way.
“What I hear is that some patients, especially the ones who are dying anyway, are beginning to think that to fight back effectively it means going all the way,” she says. “None of us are violent people; most patients are pathetic little people doing all they can do just to survive. None of us really want to do what the founding fathers did, which is to take up arms and have a revolution against these monsters who spend billions of dollars of our money to have a war against us. But haven’t we tried every peaceful way? It’s been six year since we changed the law, and still they throw us in prison. The voters backed us, the science backs us, but the government keeps killing us, and now they are saying we are terrorists. What is the rational response to a dictator government that is trying to kill you?”
As California’s outdoor harvest season approaches and annual military-style anti-marijuana helicopter operations again steal tens of thousands of plants from outdoor gardens statewide, Samantha breaks down in tears of frustration and rage.
“If I ever meet a DEA agent or any other pot police, and I hope to god I never do, I am going to tell them the truth,” she vows, “that they are tools of an occupying army that treats medical marijuana users just like the Israeli army treats Palestinians. They invade sovereign states. Their job hurts harmless people, violating the constitution and everything this country stands for. They are war criminals. In my belief system, they are going to pay for their crimes. Every time they kick down a door, steal someone’s medicine, ruin a family, or just follow orders, they are storing up for themselves an eternity of damnation. They are blind, sinful, stupid, vicious people. They should just go away and let all of us enjoy the healing herb that nature has given for our benefit.”