Medical-Pot Advocates Say Lockyer Has Failed

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April 24,00
Orange County Register
By Teri Sforza, The Orange County Register
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Before being sworn in as California's top cop, Bill Lockyer made fun of what he saw as his predecessor's stodginess. "I joke that there are days when I thought Dan (Lungren) had a copy of (the anti-marijuana movie) 'Reefer Madness' at home," Lockyer said.
Lockyer, a Democrat, promised to be a breath of fresh air in law enforcement, and to do something Republican Lungren refused to do: find a way to make Proposition 215, California's problematic medical-marijuana law, work.
He formed a task force. It made recommendations. The recommendations became a bill in the Legislature. Hopes were high that there soon would be a fair and evenhanded way to apply Prop. 215 statewide, wiping out the uneven application that lets places such as Santa Cruz open medicinal-marijuana bed-and-breakfasts, while places such as Orange County sentence medicinal-marijuana activists to six years in prison.
But today – more than a year after Lockyer took office, and more than three years after Prop. 215 passed – the Lockyer-inspired bill languishes in the Legislature, and little has changed. California is still a patchwork quilt when it comes to Prop. 215, and there's no equal protection under the law. Frustrated and impatient, some of Lockyer's supporters accuse him of reneging on a promise.
"He said he would enforce Prop. 215, and he hasn't," said Anna Boyce, a retired registered nurse from Mission Viejo who helped write the proposition.
"That's his duty," she said. "He is obligated. The law says that if you are a patient and you have a doctor's recommendation to use medical marijuana, you will be protected. He needs to tell all of law enforcement that this is the law, and not let each county and city do things differently."
Boyce and many others want Lockyer to issue guidelines telling police and district attorneys exactly how to implement Prop. 215. Lockyer intends to do no such thing.
Lockyer "was elected attorney general, not dictator," said spokesman Nathan Barankin.
Lockyer voted for Prop. 215. He remembers the suffering of his mother, who died of leukemia at 50, and of his sister, who died from the same disease. "It didn't make sense to me that they could have morphine but they couldn't have marijuana," Lockyer said during a recent visit to Orange County.
But Prop. 215 – while well-intentioned – was badly drafted, he said. "There clearly is a need for crisp state regulations and guidelines that will assist local agencies," he said last year.
His strategy for achieving those crisp regulations: collaboration.
From the beginning, Lockyer vowed to work with police, medical-marijuana advocates and the Legislature to clarify Prop. 215's ambiguities. He always intended to make the changes through the Legislature, said Barankin – and that's exactly what he's doing.
"Enforcing Proposition 215 requires a lot of cooperation between medical experts, law enforcement and government," Barankin said.
"What Bill Lockyer did, even before he was sworn in, was form a task force to think hard about what we could do to responsibly implement Proposition 215. The product of that process was legislation that is still being actively considered. ... It's our hope that the Legislature will smile upon that piece of legislation and pass it by Aug. 31, when the Legislature shuts down."
But that legislation didn't pass last year. If it fails again this year, "We will have to regroup and determine what the next steps are," Barankin said.
In the meantime, it's do-your-own-thing. Arcata and Oakland have passed laws allowing the distribution of medical marijuana. San Jose and San Francisco have taken big steps in that direction. A medical-marijuana distribution center is operating in West Hollywood. And Santa Cruz passed a law saying that anyone being treated for an illness "for which marijuana provides relief" can use marijuana without a doctor's recommendation.
Orange County, however, has mounted stings against medical-marijuana activists, prosecuted them for selling the drug and sent them to jail.
The Orange County District Attorney's Office said the cannibis club was a sophisticated cover for dealing marijuana.
That just isn't fair, critics say.
"Lockyer continues to allow police in every city to make up their own rules," said J. David Nick, the San Francisco attorney who represented Santa Ana medical-marijuana activist Marvin Chavez, who was sentenced to six years in prison in 1999 and released April 14 on bail pending appeal.
"He could, and should, issue guidelines on how Prop. 215 is to be interpreted and enforced. He is the chief law enforcement officer. All sheriffs, district attorneys and police chiefs report to him. He has the authority to say, 'This is what you're going to do with Proposition 215 cases' – he does not need legislative approval to do that."
Copyright 1999 The Orange County Register