Although the federal government appears determined to quash medical marijuana in California, the state's institutions are weighing in in support of the state's groundbreaking medical marijuana law. In two moves that herald a looming confrontation between the feds and Californians, the state's highest court and San Francisco's Board of Supervisors have challenged the federal government, the court obliquely and the city directly.
On July 18, the California Supreme Court upheld Proposition 215, the basis for the state's medical marijuana law, ruling that Californians who use or grow marijuana with a doctor's recommendation are protected from prosecution under state law. Medical marijuana users who have been arrested may have the charges dismissed without going to trial if they have a doctor's recommendation. "The possession and cultivation of marijuana is no more criminal -- so long as [the court's] conditions are satisfied -- than the possession and acquisition of any prescription drug with a physician's prescription," wrote Chief Justice Ronald M. George for a unanimous court.
The US Supreme Court ruled last year that there is no medical exception for the use of marijuana under federal law, but the vast majority of California arrests for marijuana take place under state laws, which are subject to the state Supreme Court's ruling. Dozens of Californians who legitimately used medical marijuana have been arrested since the passage of Prop. 215 in 1996. In the case that provoked the state Supreme Court ruling, police in Tuolumne County had arrested a blind diabetic for growing 31 marijuana plants in his front yard.
"This is a definite victory for the state's medical marijuana patients," said Hilary McQuie, coordinator for Americans for Safe Access (http://www.safeaccessnow.org), a campaign initiated by the Cannabis Action Network to protect the rights of medical marijuana users, providers and distributors against the ongoing federal campaign of raids and prosecutions. "The Supreme Court's ruling is crucial in ensuring state protection for medical marijuana users and growers," she told DRCNet. "It also reaffirms the state judicial system's adherence to Prop. 215, and that is very important for patients."
Jeff Jones, head of the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Co-op (http://www.rxcbc.org), which was forced to stop distributing medicine after the US Supreme Court decision, also applauded the ruling. "We couldn't have asked for a more positive ruling," he told DRCNet. "It was unanimous and it set a precedent for other states on the legal status of the medical marijuana law. There is now reason for patients across the state to feel that they will be free from police harassment."
As the state Supreme Court reaffirmed the state's Compassionate Use Act, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was threatening to grow its own medical marijuana supply, a move that could place the city on a collision course with the Justice Department. The Board on Monday passed a measure that will give San Francisco voters the opportunity to vote in November on a resolution urging city officials to explore growing and distributing medical marijuana to patients.
Passage of the resolution would not mean the city would start growing marijuana. Instead, city officials would be directed to look into it. If city officials decided to move ahead, they would have to pass legislation detailing where and how medical marijuana would be grown, how it would be distributed, and who would have access to the supply. The city would also have to plot a strategy for an expected legal battle with the feds.
"If the federal government insists on standing in our way locally, we must take matters into our own hands and protect the lives of our community members and protect their right to access life-saving medicine," said Supervisor Mark Leno, who added that he introduced the measure out of frustration with DEA's effort to close down California medical marijuana clubs.
"This is really exciting," said the Oakland co-op's Jones. "The state of California didn't properly implement Prop. 215, and the San Francisco proposal fills the gap of providing safe access to medical marijuana. The federal government has to wake up," Jones added. "We're supposed to be waging a war against terrorists, but here in California we've had a dozen medical marijuana raids, but no raids on terrorists. This just highlights the hypocrisy of the Bush administration. Enron head Kenneth Lay stole people's life savings and he doesn't face a day of jail time, while Ed Rosenthal, who was growing medicine for sick people, is looking at 40 years in federal prison. Something is very wrong here," Jones said.
"This is a huge victory, that San Francisco wants to address the needs of Californians who have a legal use for this medicine," Jones added. "The city is daring the feds to come in and run over a popular, locally-approved program. I'd love to see the DEA come after this."