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SB-420 On Hold

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A dubious accomplishment of the medical marijuana "movement" in 2003 was
the passage of Senate Bill 420, which was championed by State Sen. John
Vasconcellos, signed by Gray Davis, and due to take effect Jan. 1 2004. It
would allow qualified medical marijuana users to obtain registration cards
from the Department of Health Services. It would also entitle patients and
caregivers to possess eight ounces of dried marijuana and to grow six
flowering and 12 vegetative plants. The allowable quantities could be
increased in liberal counties, according to Vasco.

"Movement" supporters of SB-420 argued that the protections it would
provide in repressive counties outweigh any problems it might cause. And to
minimize the potential probs, the Drug Policy Alliance organized an "SB-420
Implementation Group" to advise Attorney General Bill Lockyer (who may not
be receptive) and to draft what they call a "clean-up bill." The Marijuana
Policy Project, Americans for Safe Access, and California NORML are all
involved in this endeavor.

But SB-420 will not become law as scheduled. The Dept. Health Services
announced Dec. 24 that it lacks the $470,000 needed to launch the
registration-card program. Vasco expressed outrage (and asked Gov.
Schwarzenegger to get the thing off the schneid) while many rank-and-file
cannabis providers and consumers expressed relief.

Dennis Peron has consistently denounced efforts by Lockyer, Vasconcellos
and others to amend the medical marijuana initiative as passed by the
voters. "Anybody who registers with the cops is crazy," he says
bluntly. "We established a right, not a privilege that can be revoked when
they want to revoke it."

SB-420 contained an ominous provision, inserted by law enforcement in a
last-minute, behind-closed-doors deal, that limits the number of
out-of-county patients a caregiver can serve. This could criminalize the
arrangements commonly entered into by urban cannabis consumers and growers
in Mendocino and other rural counties.

Tehama County activist Jason Browne recently summarized his misgivings
about SB-420: "Let us not forget that corrupted lobbyists in law
enforcement (namely the California Narcotics Officers Association)
pressured Lockyer to slip in these low plant numbers to begin with. I
suggest... that the only aspect of this law that police are going to be
interested in is the limitations on plant numbers and amounts possessed.
They will conveniently ignore the rest, just like they've ignored the
Compassionate Use Act for eight years!

"I don't believe these limitations in SB 420 are even legal, and I intend
to challenge them. According to the California Constitution, it is unlawful
for any municipality to seek to limit the effects of a state law.
Furthermore, only The PEOPLE may amend or repeal Cal H&SC Section 11362.5,
not the legislature or the governor. If SB 420 had left out these
restrictions on plant numbers and amounts, it might have passed the muster.
Unfortunately, this bill transformed overnight from one promoting the
implementation of the law, into one attempting to circumvent it. According
to the California Supreme Court, the Compassionate Use Act allows for
patients (and their primary caregivers) to cultivate and possess as much
cannabis as they require for their medical needs. Not eight ounces. Not
three pounds. Not even six pounds. As much as they need...

Dale Gieringer, Ever the Optimist

Dale Gieringer of California NORML, who helped draft Prop 215, responded to
Browne, "You are quite right that SB 420 can't legally limit the amount of
marijuana patients can possess or cultivate. That was actually the view of
the task force which wrote SB 420, although it isn't obvious from the text
of the bill. In the task force's discussions, it was understood that the
limits were not intended to affect how much marijuana patients could
legally have, but would rather provide guidelines as to when they could be
arrested. Since Prop. 215 is entirely silent on when patients can be
arrested, the legislature can plausibly legislate on this matter. No doubt
you are right that SB 420 will be misconstrued by our enemies to impose
rigid limits, and we will have to fight them in the courts; fortunately, we
will have the intent of the task force on our side.

"A move is afoot to introduce an SB 420 cleanup bill, which would make it
clear that the limits pertain only to arrest, not other issues. Such a
bill would probably also specify that the arrest limits apply only to those
with ID cards, not to all patients as in the present text. The original
idea of SB 420 was to offer patients an inducement to get ID cards by
affording them protection from arrest. That got lost in the final rush,
with the result that the protection from arrest was extended to all patients.

"You are also right that the limitation on caregivers to one patient
outside their own "city or county" is clearly objectionable. Cal NORML
would support a court challenge to it as an unconstitutional limitation of
Prop. 215. We may also be able to eliminate it in the cleanup bill, if
that happens.

"Despite these problems, I suspect that SB 420 will in the end prove more
beneficial than harmful. That is certainly the view from the southern half
of the state, where patients have been begging for some ID system to
protect them from arrest. SB 420 has also laid the groundwork for
patients' collectives to go public. In the end, the net effect of SB 420
should be to further legitimize MMJ. In the meantime, however, it
certainly has some nasty wrinkles that need to be ironed out.

Bill Panzer's Take

Another co-author of Prop 215, Oakland attorney Bill Panzer, also responded
to Browne: "Right On! I've been characterizing SB420 as an anti-MMJ bill
since I first read it (even before the eleventh hour reduction to 6 plants,
etc.) I also agree that the police will not suddenly have the scales fall
from their eyes, see the light, and do a 180 degree turn around on this
issue. SB420 will be seen as giving them more loopholes to use to arrest
and harass patients. I believe that the amount limits may be able to
survive a constitutional challenge because one can opt out by getting the
doctor to find that the statute's limits do not adequately serve the need
of the patient. (Though getting a doctor to find such

may be very difficult where doctors are scared to even recommend in the
first place). I'm certainly not holding my breath until the individual
counties establish guidelines above SB420's. I'll bet dollars to donuts
that outside of a few, (San Francisco, and maybe Alameda and Mendocino),
the overwhelming majority of counties will stick with the SB420 minimal
limits. "The provision that I am most concerned about, and which I believe
is most susceptible to a constitutional challenge, is the requirement that
a caregiver for more than one patient must live in the same city/county as
all the patients. (Under this provision, Ken Hayes and Mike Foley would
have had no defense).

By the way, I believe that the most likely interpretation of this provision
is that all must live in the same city. The only exception is if the
caregiver lives in an unincorporated area (no "city"); then, and only then,
the "same county" provision will kick in.

"The lesson that we in the trenches have learned, but apparently is either
not perceived, or just ignored, by the politicians and wealthy reformists,
is that the cops and prosecutors for the most part just don't like this
law, believe that cannabis has no medicinal value, that some rich people
have pulled the wool over the electorate's collective eyes, and that the
cops must do "god's work" by saving the people from their own folly by
finding any way possible to ignore the law and arrest and prosecute all
cannabis possessors and cultivators."

Story of the Year

For story of the year we nominate -not because it was most dramatic, but
because it was so typical, just another finite step on our forced march
towards eco-disaster-the Bush administration ordering the US Environmental
Protection Agency not to discuss the extent to which perchlorate, a
component of rocket fuel, has been detected in lettuce grown in the U.S.

Background: In 2002 an EPA study had determined that perchlorate in
drinking water in concentrations greater than one part per billion (ppb)
could cause brain damage in infants and other serious health problems. As
reported by Peter Waldman of the Wall St. Journal, "The Pentagon and
several defense contractors who face billions of dollars in potential
cleanup liability for perchlorate pollution, vehemently opposed that EPA
health-risk assessment, arguing perchlorate is safe in drinking water at
levels 70 to 200 times higher." The White House then proposed legislation,
in the name of military preparedness, to exempt the defense industry from
most of their potential liability for perchlorate clean-up! In March 2002
the White House Office of Management and Budget referred the question to
the National Academy of Sciences for review, effectively stalling any
regulation of perchlorate for 18 months -during which time EPA scientists
were not allowed to discuss perchlorate. Which is why on April 23,
2003, the White House ordered an EPA lab in Athens, Georgia, not to
discuss the results of its own study on perchlorate levels.

An Oakland-based nonprofit called the Environmental Working Group, aware
that the government was stalling (in the name of Science), arranged for a
small study of perchlorate levels in lettuce to be conducted at Texas Tech
University. Four of 22 lettuce samples purchased in the SF Bay Area were
found to contain perchlorate in excess of 30 ppb; the highest level, 121
ppb, was found in the "mixed organic baby greens."

The in-house study that the EPA wasn't allowed to publicize was obtained by
Waldman of the WSJ. It showed that perchlorate concentration varied with
leaf position. The outer leaves contained 17 to 28 times more perchlorate
than did the water used to irrigate them; the concentration rate in the
emerging head was three to nine times... About 90% of U.S. lettuce is grown
in valleys in Southern California and Arizona using perchlorate-laced
irrigation water from the Colorado River.

But don't let 'em have any marijuana!

Pubdate: Wed, 31 Dec 2003
Source: Anderson Valley Advertiser (CA)
Column: Cannabinotes
Copyright: 2003 Anderson Valley Advertiser
Contact: ava@pacific.net