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New Tactic for Backer of Pot Use

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Jan.31, 00
Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Author: David Reyes, Times Staff Writer
Having moved to O.C., former governor candidate takes medical-use fight to county government. The man at the lectern said his message would be brief. And as the five Orange County supervisors leaned back in their chairs, Steve Kubby, articulate and well-dressed in a business suit, came right to the point.
"Hi, I'm Steve Kubby. I'm a cancer patient and I use marijuana to stay alive." Kubby urged the board to enforce the state's medical-marijuana initiative and also to provide "safe houses" where the seriously ill can use the drug without fear of arrest or harassment by law enforcement.
Supervisors and high-ranking county employees later said they admired his brashness though some admitted they wouldn't touch such a liberal issue "with a 10-foot pole."
Still, they can expect to hear from Kubby again--and again and again. Kubby is arguably the state's most famous--and infamous--defender of Proposition 215, which legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. If not exactly a political household name, still he got a measure of attention in 1998 as he ran for governor on the Libertarian ticket. And just a couple of months later his name was in the headlines again after he was arrested for allegedly growing 265 marijuana plants at his home near Squaw Valley.
The trial for him and his wife, Michele, is set for February in Placer County. In the meantime, Kubby has become an Orange County resident, moving nearly a year ago with his wife and two children to Three Arch Bay, a gated neighborhood in Laguna Beach. His wife gave birth to their third child, a daughter, in December.
"I came because law enforcement here is more lenient," said Kubby, 53. "Orange County has been a great sanctuary for us. We were in a county that is the absolute worst county in California when it comes to enforcing Proposition 215." With him, Kubby has brought his battle over marijuana use--to the supervisors, to the sheriff and to any other Orange County officials who will listen. He makes an unusual poster boy for the campaign.
Marijuana is most often used by cancer patients to counteract the nausea caused by chemotherapy. But Kubby says he is using the drug to treat the cancer itself. He said he has had adrenal cancer for 20 years--and that he is alive only because of marijuana.
Prosecutors declined to discuss his case, but in an interview last year, they contended that the sheer volume of plants confiscated indicates that they were not intended solely for personal medical use. Kubby and his wife face charges of possession of marijuana and conspiracy for sale. Kubby says he grew a large quantity of the drug only to cull the best for use against his illness. "We are not demonstrators, we are not defending recreational marijuana use. We are organized for the specific purpose of enforcing this law," Kubby said. "We're tired of defending marijuana and that the law is right. We passed it. It's there. It's been three years and it's been too long."
One of his doctors, Vincent DeQuattro, a USC professor of medicine, says the marijuana somehow seems to keep Kubby's system from reacting to the usually lethal doses of adrenal fluids that course through his system because of the cancer. DeQuattro, a cardiologist who says he has never prescribed medical marijuana, has submitted a letter to the Placer County Superior Court saying, "Faith healers would term Steve's existence these past 10-15 years as nothing short of a miracle. In my view, this miracle, in part, is related to the therapy with marijuana."
Since his arrival, Kubby has formed a loosely organized statewide group, the American Medical Marijuana Assn., to push for enforcing the initiative on a county-by-county level. "He has a lot of support down here," said Doug Scribner, 32, chairman of the association's Orange County chapter and a Libertarian who worked on Kubby's political campaign. In addition, Kubby's wife grew up in Laguna Beach, where they both have relatives. Support has also come in contributions. Kubby and his wife are living off $65,000 in donations contributed by people around the country who heard of their criminal case, he said. The couple had started an Internet magazine, Alpine World, which they edited from home but which was discontinued after the arrest. Proposition 215 was intended to end the prosecution of patients who could produce a doctor's recommendation that they use medical marijuana to treat a variety of serious illnesses, including AIDS-related diseases and cancer.
Instead, a patient's chances of being arrested and prosecuted for using marijuana depend largely on where the patient happens to live or travel because there are no statewide guidelines on enforcement. The strategy of Kubby's medical marijuana association is to urge elected county officials to "show leadership," have compassion for sick patients and bring law enforcement, patients and the medical community together to develop local guidelines.
Still, even some of the people fighting for the right to use marijuana as medicine question Kubby's motivations. "I can see Steve's in trouble because of his criminal case, and it's in his best interest to get these counties to approve or allow growing 144 plants so when he goes to court up in Placer County he can argue that some other counties allow it," said Scott Imler, director of the Los Angeles Cannabis Resource Center, and coauthor of Proposition 215. Anna Boyce of Mission Viejo, who also was an initiative author, agreed that having guidelines for growing marijuana for patients would help Kubby's case, but she denied that Kubby and his wife are drug dealers. "Both Steve and his wife were growing for themselves," Boyce said. "And you have to understand there were cases around the state charging medical users with sales but there was no proof. This is their medicine, their life, and if you're a diabetic, it's like somebody coming into your home and taking your insulin away." Members of Kubby's association have met and talked with officials in San Diego, Humboldt, Ventura and Calaveras counties in addition to Orange. Of those, only Calaveras has moved forward. It has appointed a committee of physicians, patients, the district attorney and law enforcement officials to start looking at how to implement the initiative, said Brent Harrington, Calaveras county administrative officer.
Charles V. Smith, chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors, said he would like to see more research before taking any action. Kubby said supervisors have been cordial and expressed a desire to meet with him but so far little progress with officials has been made. Kubby also met with Sheriff Mike Carona and described him as "very warm and supportive of our issue." Kubby said he lobbied to have deputies stop seizing pot from sick people armed with a doctor's recommendation to smoke marijuana. He also had hoped to increase the county's threshold for an arrest from the current 28.5 grams, or an ounce, to Oakland's more liberal 3.5 pounds for medical users.
Carona agreed that it was a good meeting, "from the standpoint that there was open dialogue." But the department's policy, which was carved out by former Sheriff Brad Gates, who vehemently opposed the marijuana initiative, will continue, Carona said. "We're not trying to make criminals out of people who use marijuana under [Proposition] 215," Carona said. "But the problem is that the initiative tries to take marijuana and make it a medical property and there's a lot of confusion with it." Still unanswered are basic questions like what's a normal dosage and how many plants are needed, he said. "If this was a prescriptive drug then your doctor would know what you're taking and how much," Carona said. "This should have been put in the medical prescription arena and unfortunately [Proposition] 215 put this in the law enforcement arena, and I'm not sure it belongs there." Carona also took exception to Kubby's claim that law enforcement in Orange County is more lenient than elsewhere. "I don't know what law enforcement is in Placer County, but I would be shocked to find out that we here in Orange County are more lenient," he said.
Critics of Proposition 215 believe the initiative was overly broad and left loopholes for illegal marijuana use. "We were officially opposed to Proposition 215 because it violated federal law and also because it was so broad it basically allowed the availability of marijuana to spread tremendously to the wrong people," said Robert Elsberg, chairman of the California Peace Officer's Assn. narcotics and alcohol committee. As for Orange County's medical marijuana policy, Kubby said it poses a "potentially lethal threat" to him and other patients. He recently included the Orange County sheriff's response as proof that Proposition 215 has not been implemented in a complaint regarding his criminal case filed this month with the state Department of Justice. The Kubbys face seven felony counts and several misdemeanors including cultivation of marijuana for sale, conspiracy and possession of hash, mescaline and mushrooms. The drug case has thrust Kubby, who said he smokes pot daily to control the rare form of cancer he has, into the forefront of the battle over medical marijuana. He said the mushrooms and other drugs were there because of a book he wrote on drugs and politics. But until the trial starts, Kubby said, he will continue to push for enforcement of the initiative in his newly adopted county