In October 2003, Arnold Schwarzenegger became the new Governor of California. He replaced Gray Davis, a right-wing Democrat who had been re-elected in 2002.
Davis had not been very supportive of the med-pot movement in his state, but medical marijuana advocates are not sure what to expect from their new “Governator.” Many hope that Schwarzenegger will become a med-pot ally; he smoked pot on camera in the 1977 film Pumping Iron, and the same year he told Oui magazine he enjoyed “grass and hash.” (He also described participating in a locker-room “gang-bang” with a bodybuilder groupie.)
Despite his toking past, Schwarzenegger is not guaranteed to back his med-pot voters by any means. He is a self-described “compassionate conservative” like President George W Bush, and campaigned for both Bush Presidents.
Schwarzenegger avoided major debates and policy specifics during the election, using his popularity and star status to secure votes. However, he did express mild support for medical marijuana during the campaign. In one major radio interview, Schwarzenegger called marijuana legalization “a bad idea,” but added, “I would legalize medical.”
His spokesman later clarified that Schwarzenegger supported the idea of obtaining the herb with a doctor’s prescription, but had “no position” on distribution of medical marijuana in clinics.
Bruce Margolin, a candidate for Governor who ran on the issue of med-pot legalization, came 11th in the crowded field of 135 candidates.
Med-pot legal attack
Only days before stepping down as Governor, Gray Davis signed a controversial med-pot bill into law. The bill, ironically named “SB-420,” is a radical rewrite of California’s med-pot law, the Compassionate Use Act, passed by voters in 1996.
The new law, which is to come into force on January 1, creates a state registry of med-pot patients, and offers certified med-pot patients an ID card if they want one. Each patient is assigned an identifying number by which they can grow or possess six mature plants, 12 immature plants, or eight ounces of dried buds.
However, many patients complain that these limits are too low, and that the only limits should be set by doctors. The Compassionate Use Act does not limit how much pot a patient can have, nor does it specify where a patient can get it. It specifies only that med-pot possession requires a doctor’s recommendation. Because this law was passed by ballot initiative, it was not supposed to be significantly altered by further legislation.
Further, although California’s government has promised to keep the list of med-pot patients secret, critics warn that federal authorities could use the list as a basis for sweeping arrests. This kind of federal action against state-certified patients is already happening, with October raids on the homes of med-pot patients Sister Somaya in Los Angeles and Travis Paulson in Oregon. Both were charged by the feds with cultivation, even though both were in full compliance with state laws.
How Schwarzenegger will deal with these issues remains to be seen. Now that he has succeeded in the Total Recall of Davis, will he take the Eraser to Cali’s med-pot laws, or will he be The Last Action Hero the state needs to end federal med-pot persecution?
Many suspect that he and Bush will end up as Twins, and his med-pot support will turn out to have been just True Lies. Time will tell.