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S.F. officials warned on dispensing medical pot

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U.S. drug czar John Walters held fast to the Bush administration's
hard line on medical marijuana during a San Francisco visit Monday,
saying city officials who distributed pot under a voter-approved
initiative would be risking federal prosecution.

Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control
Policy, went to Glide Memorial Church to praise its drug treatment
programs and tout the administration's plan to fund local efforts
against urban drug abuse. But he spent much of his time fielding
questions about medical marijuana, the target of federal raids and
prosecutions since California voters approved its use in 1996.

Last November, San Francisco voters passed Proposition S, which
required a study of official city cultivation and distribution of
medical marijuana. If city officials implemented the measure by
providing pot to patients, Walters said, "it would be a violation of
federal law, so I would imagine they would open themselves up to
prosecution.''

"The tendency is to talk about marijuana as if it was trivial,'' but
it is an increasingly serious drug problem, Walters said. He said
youths are smoking marijuana at earlier ages than ever before, and
"more teenagers are seeking treatment for marijuana dependency than
for all other drugs combined.''

District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who took part in a meeting with
Walters earlier Monday, said the drug czar's reaction to Proposition
S showed that the city should move cautiously in implementing the
ballot measure.

As Walters spoke, about 25 demonstrators stood across the street,
carrying signs that denounced federal marijuana policy and called
Walters a liar. Organizers of the protest and Glide's pastor, the
Rev. Cecil Williams, are holding a forum on medical marijuana at the
church at noon today and invited Walters to take part. He declined.

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.


Bob Egelko,San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2003