Americans for Medical Rights (AMR), the organization that fielded successful medical marijuana initiative campaigns in several states, including California, is taking aim at the Drug Enforcement Administration's (DEA) crackdown on medical marijuana in the states with a proposed initiative to set up a state-controlled distribution network. A successful initiative would almost certainly result in a Supreme Court showdown over states' vs. federal rights.
"Through the actions of Attorney General Ashcroft, the federal government is trying to thwart the will of the voters in California and other states," said AMR's Gina Palencar. "We are looking at doing an initiative in response to the federal government's recent actions in California, the raids and the closing of the cannabis distribution center," she told DRCNet.
Saying that last summer's Supreme Court ruling in the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Co-op case, which held that state medical marijuana laws provided no defense against federal prosecution, had frightened legislators and led to an impasse at state houses, Palencar said it was time to look again at the initiative process. "We are looking at the possibility of an initiative in 2002 in Arizona, Oregon or Washington," she said. "That would give the voters the opportunity to decide if the state government should have a role in distribution."
But although California has been the scene of the most recent federal enforcement activity against medical marijuana distribution, AMR has pretty much ruled out another initiative there as too expensive, said Palencar. "California would require more time and more resources," she said. "It is the largest state, and that makes any campaign more expensive. We don't think medical marijuana patients can afford to wait."
That's fine with Dale Gieringer, head of California NORML (http://www.canorml.org), who told DRCNet that while he generally opposed any new medical marijuana initiatives in California, he would support AMR's effort. "We don't need any new initiatives in California," he said, "but I do support AMR's idea of having another challenge to the feds with a state distribution system that would raise constitutional issues that would have to be decided by the Supreme Court," Gieringer said. "We don't need that here in California; a state distribution system would be much more restrictive that what we currently have with the de facto club system that is still out there. But if they went to a state like Arizona, where there is a nominal medical marijuana law that is so restrictive it's never been used, that could be useful."
For Gieringer, the courts hold more promise than the chance of a sudden burst of enlightenment within the federal government. "We're certainly not getting any progress out of the Bush administration," he said. "The courts are the only place we can go."
Palencar, too, is looking to the courts. "There is an impasse because of federal policy," she said. "Ultimately this is a battle that will be played out between the states and the federal government in the courts."
But it is also a matter of public opinion and political will, she added. "If we pass one of these initiatives, it will be time to see what the federal government is made of," said Palencar. "How far will they go to enforce their laws? Under this scenario, they would have to get injunctions against states or state officials. We don't think they are willing to do that, but there is no turning back. We can only engage the feds."
According to AMR's Palencar, the group is studying two models for an initiative. In the first model, states would petition the federal government for marijuana from its farm in Mississippi. "We think, however, that the feds would likely ignore or deny any such request, so we are falling back on a model of having the state do the actual cultivation in a secure location and distribute the medicine to qualified patients."
While Palencar and AMR would like to formally announce the new initiative, it isn't yet a done deal. "We are definitely planning an initiative, but it will depend on polling and public opinion research, so we can't say where yet, and we can't say absolutely that it will happen. Look for an announcement in February," Palencar added.