Californians still say 'yes' to medical marijuana, co-op growing

    In 1996, the California State Legislature passed Proposition 215. Approved by 56 percent of California voters, Prop 215 added to the California Health and Safety Code “”The Compassionate Use Act of 1996,”” giving physicians the legal right to prescribe marijuana to patients suffering from a variety illnesses for which research has shown that marijuana provides relief. It also protects medicinal marijuana users and growers from criminal prosecution and sanction.

    One complication that arose from this situation was that Prop 215 and similar legislation in other states were relevant only to the state legislatures. Although the federal government passed similar compassionate-use legislation in 1975, the stance of the federal government regarding its support of medicinal marijuana after the 1990s has been anything but solid. Currently, the federal government has only granted seven Americans the legal right to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. All others cultivating or in possession of marijuana are in violation of federal law.

    The Drug Enforcement Administration has recently taken a particularly forceful stance against the legalization of marijuana in any form, even medical. Although in November 2001, it approved the use of human test subjects in a study of the effects of smoked marijuana to be carried out by two researchers from UCSD, the official stance of the DEA on marijuana is still that it is a schedule I chemical substance with a high potential for abuse and no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.

    “”As a law enforcement officer, I am well aware of the problem that dangerous drugs have caused our society. The impact of drugs and drug-related violence is seriously threatening our quality of life.”” said Thomas A. Constantine, Administrator of the DEA, in a reply to an article on medicinal marijuana use in the Journal of the American Medicinal Association.

    Cooperatives and activist organizations have sprung up all over California to lobby for the rights of patients using marijuana as a treatment and more controversially, to aid in the cultivation and distribution of the plant. Organizations like the Women’s Alliance for Medical Marijuana and San Diego’s own National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws are doing everything from organizing letter campaigns, to giving classes to patients about marijuana, to growing their own pot in large communal gardens often tended by the patients themselves. Despite being in compliance with state laws and often working with the local police departments directly to insure compliance with regulations, many of these organizations have been raided by the DEA. Their plants have been destroyed and their computers and offices seized.

    In October 2002, all of this came to a head for Steve McWilliams — co-director of San Diego’s Shelter from the Storm, a small medical marijuana collective that served six patients. Twenty medicinal cannabis plants were taken from his home by Federal Drug Administration officials, and he was then taken into custody two weeks later on marijuana cultivation charges. He pleaded guilty to the charges, but the case created a great stir of outrage within the medicinal cannabis supporting community.

    “”This prosecution raises serious questions about the misuse of federal power to try to silence a vocal critic of federal policy,”” said NORML Executive Director Keith Stroup.

    In November 2002, a federal court ruled that physicians can discuss the pros and cons of medicinal marijuana use without facing sanctions from the DEA. A viable solution to the tug-of-war plaguing medicinal marijuana users between the desire of the state to aid chronically ill patients and the desire of the U.S. government to win the war against drugs has yet to be found.

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