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Medicinal Marijuana Law Gains Favor, Survey Finds

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Californians are higher than ever on medical marijuana.

Proposition 215, the state's pioneering initiative which made it legal for
doctors to recommend pot to patients, has gained significant support across
all segments of California's population since voters approved it in 1996,
according to a Field poll released today.

The survey of 500 registered voters in the state found that 74 percent now
favor legal protections for patients who use marijuana to cope with
illnesses, compared with 56 percent who approved it on the ballot. And, the
poll shows, support for Prop. 215 comes from all political, ideological and
age groups.

Democrats favor Prop. 215 by more than 5-1, and Republicans by nearly 2-1.
Conservatives are 53 percent in favor, middle-of-the-roaders 78 percent and
liberals 92 percent. All age categories back the measure by more than 3-1
except those 65 and over, who were 59 percent in favor.

In another finding, the poll found that 50 percent of those surveyed agree
that using marijuana is no more dangerous than using alcohol. That's a
shift from 44 percent who held that position in 1983 and 16 percent who
believed it when the question was first asked in 1969. Legalization of
marijuana for general use is still opposed by a solid majority, 56 to 39

"I think people are realizing that (marijuana) is a medicine, and we all
get sick in our lifetimes," Prop. 215 author Dennis Peron said Thursday
when told of the poll results.

"Everybody knows someone with cancer. If one person is easing their nausea,
feeling better with marijuana, that resonates with others. ... These people
are not strangers. They're not hippies and drug addicts. They're regular

Prop. 215's chief antagonist has been the federal government, which has
fought its implementation with raids and shutdowns of pot clubs, and by
prosecuting suppliers and growers. Federal law classifies marijuana as an
illegal and dangerous drug with no legitimate medical use.

Richard Meyer, spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in
San Francisco, said the poll reflects "the success the marijuana lobby is
having in deceiving the public by distorting all the facts."

"At the DEA, we feel that the public needs to be protected from marijuana
and drug dealers," Meyer said.

Prop. 215 allows Californians to grow and use marijuana if their doctor has
recommended it to treat a medical condition. The chief uses are to relieve
pain and side effects from therapies for cancer and AIDS, but the measure
does not limit the illnesses for which the drug can be used. Eight other
states have followed California in passing their own medical marijuana laws.

Federal opposition to Prop. 215, in both the Clinton and Bush
administrations, has restricted the scope of the measure, with courts
generally deferring to the absolute federal ban on marijuana.

But last month a federal appeals court carved an exception for individual
users of medical marijuana who grow their own pot or obtain it for free
from within the state. The court said enforcement of the federal ban
against those patients would exceed the power of Congress to regulate
interstate commerce. The Bush administration is expected to appeal.

Jonathan Hayes, whose responses were included in the Field Poll, said
Thursday that the government's war on marijuana in general, and medical pot
in particular, is "a ridiculous waste of taxpayers' money."

"Our jails are filled with law-abiding citizens who smoke a little
marijuana," said Hayes, 60, a Mountain View resident and self-described
conservative. "People who are ill should be able to smoke a little weed.
.. Prohibition didn't work in the '20s either."

"It never was a problem until they made it illegal" about a century ago,
said another poll respondent, Gloria Shinn, 74, a retired nurse from San
Francisco. "Now it's forbidden and they overuse it because it is. I don't
think children should be given it, but if there's a (medical) need for it,
it should be available."

A respondent who opposes Prop. 215 said she doesn't object to medical use
of marijuana if it is regulated properly.

"They need to handle it like other strong medication, through pharmacies,"
said Marinda Thomas, 39, a dental hygienist from Sonoma County. She said
the state law is open to abuse because marijuana is supplied by pot clubs
and less-formal sources.

The poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 5-13 among randomly chosen
registered voters. The margin of error is 4.5 percentage points.

The responses underscore the obstacles faced by federal prosecutors in
trying medical marijuana cases before pro-Prop. 215 California juries.

A San Francisco federal jury convicted prominent marijuana advocate Ed
Rosenthal of felony cultivation charges last January, but only after a
federal judge barred jurors from hearing that Rosenthal was growing pot for
medical purposes.

When jurors learned after the trial about the excluded evidence, a majority
renounced their verdict and called for leniency. A federal judge then
granted Rosenthal probation on a charge that normally requires a five-year
prison sentence. The government has appealed the sentence, and Rosenthal
has appealed his conviction.

Pubdate: Fri, 30 Jan 2004
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Page: A - 1
Copyright: 2004 Hearst Communications Inc.
Contact: letters@sfchronicle.com
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