Um... can you say civil war? In California this week (3/18), the first shots were fired in a battle over one of the most fundamental issues of American-style democracy. That is, to what lengths, and over what issues, can or should the power of the federal government be used to thwart the will of the people and their local representatives? That the issue at the heart of a growing dispute putting local elected officials and the federal government at odds.
As the federal government this week prepares for the opening of its civil case against six medical marijuana outlets in California on March 24, the mayors of four California cities, San Francisco, Oakland, West Hollywood and Santa Cruz sent similar letters to President Clinton urging him to drop the federal suit and to "work with state and local officials to find an amenable solution that will put patients first." Such cooperation seems unlikely, however, in light of the federal government's hard line approach to the issue since the passage of 215.
In San Francisco, where over 80% of residents voted in favor of Proposition 215 (the November '96 ballot initiative which legalized medicinal marijuana in the state), popular Mayor Willie Brown published an op-ed titled "Defending the Right to Medical Marijuana," in which he called for a moratorium on federal enforcement of "marijuana laws that interfere with locally regulated operation of cannabis patient clubs and allow patients access to their medicine." He concluded by saying, "Californians with life-threatening diseased shouldn't have to suffer a world of pain while their elected representatives work to find a middle ground between local discretion and federal supremacy."
Adding fuel to the fire this week were San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan and California's Attorney General Dan Lungren. Hallinan has submitted a "friend of the court" brief in support of the clubs in the federal case. That brief notes that as a last resort, he would consider having San Francisco's health department distribute marijuana to patients. The brief was joined this week by the Oakland DA's office at the direction of the Oakland City Council. Lungren, who is running in the state's Republican gubernatorial primary to become the Republican nominee for governor, and who is opposed in that race by San Francisco cultivators' club operator Dennis Peron, intimated to the LA Times that he would uphold the law, even arresting San Francisco health workers if it came to that. The federal action has also been officially opposed by the Fairfax City Council and the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors.
Mike Nisperos of Oakland's Crime and Public Safety Committee told The Week Online that the city's government was working with the police to develop standards for medical marijuana. "I think that it's clear that the cities involved are committed to providing well-regulated access to marijuana for those who are using it medicinally. We are now in the process of setting up a set of guidelines -- how much marijuana can legitimately be possessed or grown, how the police will make determinations upon finding marijuana, etc. -- that everyone, the advocates, the police, our DA Tom Orloff, can live with. We're hopeful that in the end, we'll be able to work with the federal government so that access can be provided."
On Thursday (3/19) however, Attorney General Janet Reno responded ominously to the mayors' pleas, saying that "we will enforce the law." But Michael Katz, Director of San Francisco's health department, said that the city has "an absolute commitment" to patients' access to medicinal marijuana.
A rally in defense of safe access to medical marijuana, sponsored by the Medical Marijuana Patients' and Caregivers' Fund, will be held at the San Francisco Federal Building, 450 Golden Gate Ave., Tuesday March 24th, the opening day of the federal case against the buyers' clubs, from 12 to 1pm. For further information, please contact Dale Gieringer, California NORML, at (415) 563-5858, or [email protected].