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Medical Marijuana Activists Urge City Action

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Medical marijuana advocates have called on The City to take an active role
in providing cannabis to sick people now that a court ruling has blocked the
federal government from prosecuting.

A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling Tuesday decreed that the federal
government could not prosecute people with doctors' prescriptions for
medical marijuana if they were not obtaining the drug across state lines or
profiting from it.

Previously, San Francisco and other Bay Area cities tussled with the U.S.
Justice Department because California law provides for medical marijuana
with a prescription but the Federal Government forbids it under the
Controlled Substances Act.

San Franciscans also passed voter initiative Proposition S in 2002, which
provides for The City to investigate ways to make cannabis available to

Assemblymember and former supervisor Mark Leno, who sponsored Proposition S,
urged The City to explore ways of increasing access to medical marijuana,
adding that he favored the Santa Cruz model, which uses private contractors
to manufacture medical cannabis.

Leno said The City should actively debate the topic, seeking advice from the
city attorney and district attorney about the legality and logistics of
growing or contracting out cannabis production to a non-profit organization.

But he cautioned that the threat posed by a federal raid of cannabis growers
had not automatically disappeared because the ruling could be successfully

"The ruling is important because it will allow people to stay alive, because
this is a life or death matter," Leno said.

Steve Heilig, health director for the San Francisco Medical Society, called
on The City to take a role regulating the "gray market" of cannabis club pot

Heilig described the current distribution as "semi-legal," adding that some
clubs hiked prices for the drug to as much as $60 a hit, exploiting the

"The clubs charge the same prices as they do on the streets and that's wrong
as far as I'm concerned," Heilig said. "We should be able to get it down to
a few dollars."

The City should also reassure mainstream physicians about the legitimacy of
their role in prescribing pot, he said.

Judy Appel, a lawyer with the Drug Policy Alliance in Oakland, said she
thought The City would recognize widespread public support for medical
marijuana and instruct city departments accordingly.

"We need a lot of different ways to provide it and I'm hoping the Board of
Supervisors will find the best way to provide safe medication to patients,"
she said.

In October, Supervisor Bevan Dufty convened a hearing to explore Proposition

At the time, city officials felt hamstrung by the Bush administration and
advocated a low-key approach to Prop. S and no formal city involvement in
production of marijuana.

Tuesday's ruling gives The City new teeth, but supervisors and Mayor-elect
Gavin Newsom could not be reached for comment Wednesday on how The City
would respond.

District Attorney-elect Kamala Harris said she had not yet read the court
ruling but that it appeared to provide The City cover from federal raids.

The City now needs legal opinion from the city attorney's office about what
its next move could be, and direction from the Board of Supervisors, Harris

"Obviously it's a step in the right direction for San Francisco and for that
I am happy and feeling optimistic about not only San Francisco, but where
the state and country is headed in terms of perspectives on the benefits of
medical marijuana," she said.

Tuesday's ruling gave two patients a temporary injunction against
prosecution by the Federal Government.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has not shown any sign of appealing the
court's decision. However, in a press conference Wednesday, plaintiff Angel
Raich, who has an inoperable brain tumor, said she foresaw an uphill

"The battles are just beginning," she said. "I have no doubt that Attorney
General John Ashcroft will once again try to attack the sick, disabled and
dying Americans."

Pubdate: Thu, 18 Dec 2003
Source: San Francisco Examiner (CA)
Copyright: 2003 San Francisco Examiner
Contact: letters@sfexaminer.com
Website: http://www.examiner.com/