There was quite a spread at Area 420's picnic at Stevens Creek Park on Sunday: barbecued hamburgers, chicken, beer, chips, brownies. And pot. Pot in joints. Pot in glass pipes. Pot in brownies. Pot in an aromatic herb butter.
Pot if you had AIDS, or cancer, or chronic pain, and a doctor's note prescribing medicinal marijuana for your suffering. Jim Lohse, who organized the picnic in support of medicinal marijuana, purposely called it a potluck and hinted in his event publicity that he would be giving away weed to ``pre-approved'' patients.

But the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department assured him that could get him arrested, so he did not. Deputies did not come to the Cupertino park Sunday, even though Lohse had invited them.

``I'm not trying to save the world, just relieve some pain,'' said Lohse, who is 36 and promotes himself as the only medicinal marijuana distributor in Santa Clara County who doesn't operate in secret. ``It just feels like the right thing to do.''

Was this even legal? Depends on whom you ask. Californians voted to make medicinal marijuana legal in 1996 when they passed Proposition 215, but that stance directly contradicts federal drug laws. The conflict is still being hashed out in federal court.

``The feds find the use of marijuana under any circumstances not acceptable, illegal,'' said Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Karen Sinunu, who supports the legitimate use of medicinal marijuana. But from the standpoint of local and state law, she said, she didn't see a problem with the picnic as advertised, or with patients smoking medicinal pot at the event.

Lohse, who runs a medicinal marijuana advocacy Web site known as Area 420 -- -- distributes cannabis to 15 patients each month, without charge. He doesn't ask much about their conditions, which include cancer and glaucoma and migraines, although he requires a doctor's prescription, he said. Lohse is one of his own best customers for the marijuana he grows in an apartment in a South Bay city he won't identify. He says he smokes pot three to four times a day to relieve severe back pain from two car accidents.

The 30 or so picnic-goers who braved Sunday's rain and a speech from a Libertarian candidate for state senate refused to let their spirits or their joints be dampened.

As they lighted up with abandon, they neatly meshed two subcultures: pothead and chronic pain sufferer. Jean Hanamoto of Morgan Hill handed out fliers for her computer-manipulated photographs of marijuana plants. Sandy Westfall of Hollister, a veritable Martha Stewart of pot culture who sported pink Reeboks and a wreath of marijuana leaves and tea roses on her head, brought with her a tray of spiked brownies with an elaborate powdered-sugar stencil of pot leaves.

The medical establishment considers using medicinal marijuana to treat chronic pain to be less supported in scientific research than using it to improve the appetites of AIDS patients or alleviate the nausea that can accompany chemotherapy. But like Westfall, most marijuana users at the picnic said they prefer it to drugs such as Vicodin, which they believe are potentially more addictive.

Many carried identification cards from the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Cooperative, one of the more established medicinal marijuana groups, as well as letters from their doctors, which they hoped would protect them from hassles with law enforcement.

``There are a lot of everyday people using medical marijuana,'' said Westfall, an elementary school teacher's aide who steeps it in chamomile tea to relieve pain from endometriosis, a pelvic disease. ``Maybe even people you know.''

Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Author: Barbara Feder Ostrov, Mercury News
Published: Monday, April 19, 2004
Copyright: 2004 San Jose Mercury News