Medical Marijuana Under Siege, Making Slow Progress 8/13/99

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Medical marijuana advocates were angered by the trial, conviction and sentencing of B.E. Smith, a Vietnam veteran who used marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Smith, who considered his marijuana use and cultivation to be legal under Proposition 215, had informed local police and county officials, and posted a sign in his garden identifying it as a medical marijuana supply. Smith was prosecuted by the federal government in the District Court in Sacramento, California.

US District Judge Garland Burrell forbid the defense from addressing the issue of Smith's medical marijuana need, caregiving (providing marijuana to other documented patients), or Prop. 215. Burrell's disallowing of much of the defense's case led to a sharp exchange between Burrell and actor Woody Harrelson, who almost drew a citation for contempt of court. Harrelson asked Judge Burrell, "I'm just wondering why you're keeping the truth from the jury... How can you sleep at night?"

At sentencing last week, Judge Burrell rejected requests by the defense to sentence Smith to the low end of the federal guideline range, and by the prosecution to use the middle of the guideline range, and instead sentenced Smith to the maximum possible sentence, 27 months, calling Smith "beyond rehabilitation" and saying he had no remorse and would probably grow marijuana again as soon as he got out of prison.

Smith told the court that "[e]very day I spend in prison will be seen by me as another day in the service of my nation," and exhorted members of the public to help pass laws "that will allow people to use an herb provided by nature to alleviate their terrible and cruel suffering, made worse by cruel legislators, prosecutors and judges whose actions add to this suffering by punishing those who would provide such medicine to these patients."

On July 6, police in San Diego arrested Steve McWilliams, founder and organizer of the Shelter from the Storm Cannabis Collective, and another patient and member of the collective, identified only as Tom. McWilliams told Zenger Magazine that the San Diego police and the Narcotics Task Force destroyed all of the Collective's plants, despite them being individually labeled for individual patients. McWilliams, who moved from his native Colorado to take part in the 1996 campaign for Proposition 215, was on probation for a previous conviction. Judge Kenneth So, however, who sentenced McWilliams to probation last spring, also ruled that McWilliams had a right to grow marijuana for his own personal consumption. McWilliams suffers from head, neck and shoulder injuries from automobile accidents in 1986 and 1992.

According to the San Diego Tribune, a dozen collective members addressed a meeting of the City Council late last month. Michael Bartelmo, a wheelchair-bound quadriplegic, told the Council that Collective members are "trying our darndest to follow the law... but we can't if police officers, the City Council or others in authority won't tell us what the law is." Councilmember George Stevens called the confiscation of the group's plants "an urgent situation," and asked the city manager and attorney to report back with a clarification from the police on medical marijuana within 30 days.

Meanwhile, the trial of Steve Kubby, recent Libertarian candidate for California governor, and Michele Kubby, has been postponed until February, 2000. Judge Robert G. Vonasek found that Michele Kubby could not stand trial at this time, due to medical complications in her pregnancy.

Steve Kubby told the Sacramento Bee that he welcomes the trial as "an opportunity to educate a largely disbelieving society that considers this (medicinal use of marijuana) to be some kind of hoax," and contends that he uses marijuana to control hypertension associated with malignant pheochromocytoma, a usually fatal cancer.

The trial of medical marijuana activists Todd McCormick and bestselling author Peter McWilliams has also been scheduled, for November 16.

In Naples, Florida, medical marijuana patient Joe Tacl and his 20-year old son Michael are trial for growing five marijuana plants, having more than 40 grams of marijuana in their house, as well as several items of drug paraphernalia such as pipes and grow lights, according to the Naples Daily News, July 28. Tacl uses marijuana to relieve the nausea caused by painkillers such as morphine, codeine and methadone, which he has had to take since being run over by a van six years ago.

Tacl's attorney, Gary Wainwright, is arguing a medical necessity defense. According to the Gainesville Sun, jurors heard testimony from Dr. Scott Lipoff, a Gainesville pain management specialist who has been treating Tacl, and Dr. John P. Morgan, a pharmacology professor from New York who co-authored "Marijuana Myths, Marijuana Facts" and has conducted research on a wide range of drug issues.

If convicted, Tacl and his son could face up to 11 years in prison, though as first-time offenders the sentence would probably be lighter.

In other states, the new medical marijuana laws have begun to have an impact. Nearly 200 patients in Oregon have registered with the state's voluntary registry, and the Oregon Medical Association has dropped its initial opposition and issued guidelines to physicians, according to the Daily Herald (WA), 8/11. In Alaska, the state registry had nine patients enrolled, according to KTUU in Anchorage, on 7/15. Other patients were reluctant to register with a government database. Legislation sponsored by State Senator Loren Leman amended the voter initiative last May to make registration mandatory to receive the initiative's legal protections.

In Great Britain, a 42-year old medical marijuana patient was acquitted in a jury trial on four charges of cultivating and possessing marijuana with intent to supply. According to The Telegraph on July 23, Colin Davies uses marijuana to relieve back pain from spinal injuries, and also set up a Medical Marijuana Cooperative and supplies marijuana to two multiple sclerosis patients. Davies was arrested last November, five days after the government rejected a House of Lords select committee's recommendation to legalize medical use of marijuana. A spokesman for the British Medical Association said that the association supports clinical research into marijuana's medical use, and that "[i]n the meantime we ask the courts to look at cases with understanding and compassion." Davies has pledged to continue operating his cooperative.

In Grand Forks, Canada, Mayor Brian Taylor has proposed setting up an official medical marijuana production facility, hoping to make his town the "medicinal marijuana capital of Canada," according to the Grand Forks Gazette. Taylor's proposal was made last June, on the heels of a report by Health Minister Allan Rock on how his ministry is proceeding on development of medical marijuana clinical trials. Taylor's proposal was reported on BCTV, CTV, CBC Radio and in several major newspapers.

Taylor and a group of community leaders and have formed a cooperative called Brown Bear Medicinals, which has already been accepted as a bidder by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Health Minister Rock has granted special exemptions to Canadian federal drug laws to two patients with AIDS, and his office has received exemption requests from 40-50 people, according to the Calgary Herald.

(A good place to get ongoing information about the medical marijuana battle is

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Issue #103, 8/13/99 Medical Marijuana Under Siege, Making Slow Progress | Baltimore Study Finds Needle Exchange Effective | Interview: Dr. Joel Brown on the Status of Drug Education in the United States | Members of California Congressional Delegation Urge Governor to Sign Needle Exchange Bill | Beyond Prohibition: Cato Institute Conference to Feature New Mexico Governor | Methamphetamine Bill Contains Anti-Free-Speech Legislation | Newsbriefs | Job Opportunities | Editorial: Killing the Bad Guys
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