UKIAH - Four years ago, an opera singer and a pharmacist helped turn a
theater just north of Ukiah into a pharmacy and a support center offering a
controversial medicine to patients.

Marvin and Millie Lehrman, founders of the Ukiah Cannabis Club, celebrated
the club's four-year anniversary last week.

The Lehrmans' Forks Theater was home to the 530-member club until November,
when the club moved to its current site on North State Street.

With the support of local law enforcement and politicians, the club has
kept a low-profile, distributing marijuana to card-carrying patients. The
club also offers reading materials and marijuana cultivation classes.

Marvin Lehrman, a former opera singer with a bachelor's degree in music and
two doctorates in philosophy, said although he and his wife are not medical
marijuana users themselves, they are dedicated to making sure the sick and
terminally ill have a place to go for their medication.

The Lehrmans moved from San Francisco to Mendocino County in 1983, and
began running the Forks Theater just north of Ukiah, holding live stage
performances and offering re-runs of classic Hollywood movies.

In 1997, they were asked to help start the club by their friend Cherrie Lee
Smith-Lovett. Smith-Lovett, a Ukiah native and an early activist in the
medical marijuana movement who suffered from lupus, was driving to San
Francisco to buy marijuana at the time. She died Feb. 23 of a stroke.

With their club very much in the news lately, the Lehrmans said they look
forward to celebrating an end to the political and legal wrangling over the
use of marijuana to treat and relieve the symptoms of illness.

"I'd like to see an end to the drug war," said Marvin Lehrman, 66, director
of the club. "I think we are in the Dark Ages when it comes to marijuana."

Fifty-six percent of California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996 to
legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes with a doctor's

But a lawsuit and a court injunction threaten to shut medical marijuana clubs.

The Ukiah club is one of six Northern California clubs targeted by the
federal government in a civil lawsuit. Federal officials say marijuana is
an illegal drug with no medicinal value, and using it for any reason is a
violation of federal law.

The National Institutes of Health and the University of California are
sponsoring research projects to test the medical value of marijuana.

Millie Lehrman, 52, who has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco,
said research already has shown marijuana has great medicinal value, such
as stimulating appetite to fight unhealthy weight loss, relieving the side
effects of cancer treatment and easing the pain of glaucoma, an eye disease
that could lead to vision loss.

"Being a pharmacist, I view it as any medicine that people can use if they
need it," said Lehrman, who consults with medical marijuana patients at the
club. She also works at Frank R. Howard Memorial Hospital in Willits.

"I have sympathy for the patients, and I see results," Marvin Lehrman said.
"The government has been perpetrating a hoax that ruined people's lives."

After a federal judge barred the six clubs from dispensing marijuana in
1998, three of them closed. But the Ukiah and Marin clubs have remained
open while the Oakland Cannabis Buyers Club appealed the judge's decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case last month, and it is expected to
make a ruling by June. But during oral arguments, the court's conservative
justices said they saw no legal basis for giving the drug to people who are
seriously ill.

David Nelson, attorney for the Ukiah club, said if the Supreme Court rules
in favor of the government, then federal authorities are empowered to shut
any medical marijuana club.

"But the problem is, clubs will just keep popping up," Nelson said. "There
is a question of how much energy they (federal authorities) will put into"
closing down clubs.

Newshawk: Jo-D and Tom-E
Pubdate: Mon, 09 Apr 2001
Source: Press Democrat, The (CA)
Copyright: 2001 The Press Democrat
Author: Ucilia Wang, The Press Democrat