Marijuana Arrests Up For 6th Straight Year in California 8/07/98

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(press release from California NORML)

The number of marijuana arrests in California increased again in 1997 despite the passage of Proposition 215, according to newly released figures from the Bureau of Criminal Statistics, The data show 57,667 marijuana arrests in 1997, up from 56,956 in 1996, conclusively refuting claims by Attorney General Lungren that Prop. 215 has effectively legalized marijuana.

The new data come in the wake of a wave of arrests and prosecutions of medical marijuana patients and providers around the state in a crackdown by anti-215 D.A.'s led by Attorney General Lungren.

  • In Orange county, patient David Herrick was sentenced to 4 years in prison for supplying less than an ounce of marijuana to patients of the Orange County Cannabis Co-Op. Judge William Froeberg instructed the jury to ignore Prop. 215 and the medical benefits of marijuana. Herrick's sentence will cost taxpayers $25,000 per year for less than $100 of pot.
  • In a related case, Orange County Cannabis Co-Op Director Marvin Chavez, who suffers a degenerative spinal disease, faces a possible 12-year sentence for distributing medical marijuana. Judge Robert Fitzgerald has ruled that Chavez can not claim protection under Prop.215 and has ordered the club's patient records to be turned over to prosecutors. Chavez's trial and jury selection are set to begin on August 3, 8:30am at the Orange County Central Courthouse, 700 Civic Center Drive West, Division 39, 10th floor in Santa Ana.
  • In San Diego, patient Steven McWilliams and Dion Markgraaff are charged with growing pot for patients of a now-defunct San Diego club.
  • In San Jose, Santa Clara Medical Cannabis Center director Peter Baez faces felony charges for distributing marijuana.
  • In the US District Court in San Francisco, five medical marijuana clubs have been charged with contempt of court for violating a preliminary injunction by distributing medical marijuana. Hearings before Judge Charles Breyer are scheduled August 31, 1998, 2:30 pm at the San Francisco Federal Building.
  • In San Bernardino county, disabled patient Gene Weeks was arrested for growing his own marijuana by sheriffs who told him that Prop. 215 "doesn't apply" because of federal law.
  • In Los Angeles, author/patient Peter McWilliams, patient Todd McCormick, and seven others have been indicted on federal charges of conspiring to manufacture medical marijuana for patients in Southern California. Under federal mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, the cost of their imprisonment alone could exceed $1 million.
California NORML coordinator Dale Gieringer argues that the government has spent more money trying to persecute medical marijuana patients than trying to implement Prop. 215. A proposed bill by Sen. John Vasconcellos to let counties and cities establish local medical marijuana distribution programs has been stalled under opposition from Lungren and Gov. Wilson.

"Attorney General Lungren's war on medical marijuana shows he is more intent on creating crime than preventing it," argues Gieringer. "Not only has he ignored Prop. 215's mandate to establish a plan for "safe and affordable" distribution of medical marijuana, he is wasting taxpayers' money persecuting those who do so."

Speaking in a gubernatorial debate last Friday, Lungren called for more anti-drug enforcement. In fact, California now has a record number of marijuana and other drug prisoners, and marijuana arrests have been increasing for six years in a row. Despite this, surveys show marijuana use had increased under Lungren's tenure as attorney general.

The onslaught of arrests shows that California's war on marijuana is bankrupt, says California NORML. This August 10th marks the 85th anniversary of marijuana prohibition in California. Over this period, usage has increased from near-zero to millions of adults. Over the same time, there have been over 1,800,000 cannabis arrests, 1,000,000 of them felonies. In 1975, the legislature partially decriminalized marijuana, saving the state an estimated $100 million per year in enforcement costs. Since then, however, arrests have continued at half their preceding level.

California NORML proposes a three-step program to reduce the costs of marijuana enforcement: (1) Implement a "safe and affordable" distribution system for medical marijuana as called for in Prop; 215; (2) Decriminalize personal use cultivation of marijuana by adults to reduce dependency on the illicit market, as in some Australian states; (3) Allow cities and counties to establish regulated zones where licensed cannabis clubs could provide cannabis to adults, as in Amsterdam.

(Contact: Dale Gieringer, California NORML, (415) 563-5858, [email protected],

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Issue #53, 8/07/98 Marijuana Arrests Up For 6th Straight Year in California | Chavez Turns Down Plea Bargain | Arizona Supreme Court Judge Sides with Legislative Council over Prop. 300 Description | DC Appropriations Bill Would Ban Even Local Spending on Needle Exchange | Misusing the Evidence | British Columbia Looks to Harm Reduction Strategy | National Party of Western Australia to Debate Heroin Maintenance | Health of Afghani Women Deteriorating Under Taliban Regime | Citizens Truth Commissions | Fall 1998 Soros Fellowships in Drug Policy Studies | Conferences Coming Up
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