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Pot Bill Splits Pro-smoking Groups

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Medical activists say new legislation annuls freedom given in Prop. 215 in

The same new state law that tries to distinguish legal, medical marijuana
use from illegal, recreational use also spotlights rifts in California's
marijuana community.

S.B. 420, signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis last Sunday, creates a
voluntary statewide registry for medical marijuana patients and caregivers,
who can get photo ID cards to protect themselves from

It also sets the first statewide medical marijuana possession standards --
eight ounces dried, six mature plants and 12 immature plants -- although
cities and counties still can set their own, higher limits.

Some see it as long-overdue protection for patients and caregivers.

It's "one of the best things that's happened to our move-ment," said Oakland
Cannabis Buyers Cooperative executive director Jeff Jones, because it
provides "more of a clear guideline for law enforcement to have to accept
this as a legitimate use."

Glenn Backes, health policy director and California legislative point man
for the national drug reform group Drug Policy Alliance, agreed the new law
is a good thing "in terms of creating a

system for both patients and police," and constitutes progress "far beyond
what any other state has been able to manage."

But others see it as a grievous infringement upon rights granted by the
Compassionate Use Act of 1996, approved by voters as Proposition 215.

"Would you have a group of white supremacists enforcing anti-discrimination
laws? Because that's what we have right here," said noted marijuana author
and activist Ed Rosenthal of Oakland, the "Guru of Ganja" convicted of
federal cultivation charges this year.

"I don't believe that police, prosecutors or any part of the criminal
justice system are stakeholders in making the policy decisions regarding
people's health," Rosenthal said.

California's 1996 medical marijuana law said possession required only a
doctor's note -- it neither limited how much one could have, nor specified
where one should get it. People such as Rosenthal and Dennis Peron, a
driving force behind Proposition 215, want to keep the mostly unfettered
freedom that law seemed to grant; some, not all, also favor legalizing
marijuana entirely.

Rosenthal said varying limits in different cities and counties means
"there's no equal protection under the law. Does that mean in counties
allowing only six plants, that people are healthier there and need less

He also said the new law is "fundamentally flawed because it treats patients
who use marijuana as medicine different from other patients" -- there's no
ID card or registry for people using prescription painkillers, for instance.
"I think it's flawed constitutionally for that reason."

Yet Rosenthal doesn't hope for a day, as some do, when marijuana is
dispensed at pharmacies with a doctor's formal prescription.

"Marijuana should be treated as other herbs are treated -- you don't need a
prescription to buy echinacea," he said, referring to a popular herbal cold
and flu remedy. "Marijuana is not a drug. A drug is something that's
manufactured, an artifact of human intervention. Marijuana is an herb and
should be regulated just for purity the way other herbs are."

Others welcome the structure the new law brings, especially patients and
caregivers in more conservative areas where police, prosecutors and judges
have been less likely to accept medical marijuana use. A photo ID will be
the first tangible legal protection they've ever had, and many are willing
to abide by the possession limits in order to get it.

"This is really going to help patients in areas like Orange County, San
Bernardino, Palm Springs, Riverside -- areas where judges say Prop. 215
doesn't exist in their courtrooms, where city councils let their police
continue to harass patients," said Steph Sherer, executive director of the
Berkeley-based medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access.

Sherer acknowledged her group was "split down the middle" on S.B. 420.
Police mustn't use it as a go-ahead to harass anyone with more than six
plants, she said: "If it's implemented the way that (state Sen. John)
Vasconcellos and (Assemblyman) Mark Leno intended -- for this to be a
baseline, a floor for patients -- then it'll be a positive step."

Leno, D-San Francisco, said possession limits were added to the bill at the
last minute as a political necessity. "Without it, it would not have passed
out of the Legislature. The California District Attorneys (Association)
would have opposed the measure, we would have lost a significant number of
Democrats and the bill would've failed."

Patients can exceed the limits with a doctor's explicit say-so, Leno noted,
and "it's a floor, it's not a ceiling -- any local government can decide to
increase that amount." He also said privacy concerns arose as San Francisco
began its own, similar ID card registry system; three years later, about
7,000 people have signed up for it and it's lauded by patients, physicians
and police.

"This is all voluntary, no one has to do any of it, but we wanted to design
it so people will be attracted to it and feel there is safety and comfort in
it," he said. "Sometimes it takes time to prove that .. and you're never
going to get complete consensus. This is a product of hard work and

Jones' Oakland cooperative has issued ID cards for years, so if the
possession limits hadn't been added, he said, "I would've been completely in
support of the bill." The limits make no sense, he complained: just one
well-tended plant grown outside can yield more than eight ounces, an instant

Yet "across the board in the state of California, 80 percent of our
membership think this is a good thing ... they're like, 'Oh, now I can
grow!'"he said. "If this list helps patients not to have to get arrested and
have their gardens seized, it's a step forward."

Jones has worked with Rosenthal and supported him in his tangle with federal
law, yet noted Rosenthal "chastised me for months" after Jones agreed to a
6-pound, 144-plant limit Oakland set in 1998. It was the state's most
liberal policy by far -- later halved by City Council in 2001 -- but
Rosenthal opposes any limits.

"He comes from a different mindset completely," Jones said of Rosenthal, but
he respects that mindset because it will help define the debate as the
Attorney General reviews whether the limits are adequate, as the new law

Opinions may differ, but ultimately the medical marijuana movement finds
common ground. On Saturday that ground was in San Francisco, where Jones,
Sherer and Leno were among co-hosts of a fundraiser to benefit Rosenthal's
appeal of his federal criminal conviction.

Pubdate: Sun, 19 Oct 2003
Source: Oakland Tribune, The (CA)
Copyright: 2003 MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
Contact: triblet@angnewspapers.com
Website: East Bay Times - Contra Costa and Alameda county news, sports, entertainment, lifestyle and commentary