Medical marijuana will soon be legal in Oakland



July 18, 2000
San Francisco Examiner

Federal judge lets Oakland pot club distribute drug

Ruling limits use to strictly defined medical necessity

Medical marijuana will soon be legal in Oakland under an unprecedented
ruling by a federal judge.

Over Clinton administration objections, U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer
allowed the Oakland Cannabis Buyers' Cooperative to distribute the drug to
patients who face imminent harm without it and have no legal alternative.

Monday's ruling comes three days after San Francisco health officials
started issuing photo ID cards to marijuana users who had their doctors'

A day earlier, a UC-San Francisco professor's study released at the 13th
International AIDS Conference in South Africa found that marijuana did not
interfere with anti-retroviral drugs used against AIDS and suggested it was
effective against extreme weight loss associated with the disease.

"We applaud the wisdom of the courts and again call upon the federal
authorities to reschedule" marijuana, now classified under federal law as a
substance with no legitimate medical use, said Jeff Jones, executive
director of the Oakland cooperative.

The government has shown no such inclination, moving instead to close
marijuana clubs that sprang up after California voters passed Proposition
215 in November 1996. The initiative, adopted in varying forms by seven
other states, suspends state drug laws for patients whose doctors recommend
marijuana to ease pain, nausea or the side effects of potent medicines for
diseases that include AIDS and cancer.

Justice reviewing ruling

Justice Department spokeswoman Gretchen Michael said the department was
reviewing Breyer's ruling and had no comment. The department has until the
end of next week to decide whether to seek Supreme Court review of an
appellate ruling last September that was the basis of Breyer's decision.

Implementation may not be quick or simple. Following the language of the
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Breyer said the cooperative could supply
marijuana to patients who showed a medical necessity - a serious condition,
threatening imminent harm, that has resisted all legal medicines but could
be improved by marijuana.

That is narrower than the Prop. 215 standards and will require Jones' staff
and medical advisors to screen the 2,500 members of the cooperative, which
halted marijuana distribution by court order in October 1998. Jones said
the review should take about a week and would probably leave somewhere
between 15 and 50 percent of the members eligible for marijuana.

The ruling also has a limited scope, shielding only the Oakland cooperative
and not a handful of patients and growers who have been turned down by
other federal judges in the past year when they tried to invoke a
"necessity" defense against federal criminal charges. Those defendants are
counting on the appeals court to apply its September ruling to their cases.

But Breyer's decision was nevertheless a dramatic victory for sponsors of
Prop. 215 after more than three years of adversity in state and federal

"This is the first step toward getting it in pharmacies. . . . The genie's
out of the bottle and they never can put it back," said Dennis Peron,
author of Prop. 215 and founder of the Cannabis Buyers' Club in San Francisco.

The club, which predated the 1996 initiative, was closed by the courts, and
Peron now runs a farm in Lake County that distributes marijuana to about
150 patients.

Hallinan: Legal under 'federal law'

"It's a victory for everyone who voted for Prop. 215," said San Francisco
District Attorney Terence Hallinan. "Medical patients can now use marijuana
legally under federal law."

Breyer refused to carve out an exception for medical necessity in October
1998 when he granted the Justice Department's request for an injunction
prohibiting marijuana distribution at the Oakland cooperative and five
others in Northern California.

The Oakland organization quickly reopened as a hemp store and patient
counseling center, with the backing of city officials.

Last September, the appeals court told Breyer to reconsider and said
evidence offered by the cooperative and its patients, about the
effectiveness of marijuana and lack of a legal substitute, would support an
exception unless the government rebutted it.

Breyer invited a rebuttal at a hearing last Friday but was told by Justice
Department lawyer Mark
Quinlivan that he had nothing to add beyond the fact that Congress and
federal regulators considered marijuana medically worthless.

"The government has still not offered any evidence to rebut (the
cooperative's) evidence that cannabis is medically necessary for a group of
seriously ill patients," Breyer said in his order Monday.

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