SAN RAFAEL, Calif. - In most places, district attorneys are bounced out of
office if they appear too soft on crime. In this liberal county, that logic
could be reversed.

Marin County District Attorney Paula Kamena faces a recall vote on May 22
in part because advocates of medical marijuana argue she is too tough on
marijuana smokers.

At issue is Proposition 215, the law approved by California voters in 1996
that allows people to use marijuana for medical purposes provided they have
a doctor's permission.

Implementation of the measure has proven difficult, however, since it is
vague on where patients can get marijuana, how much of it they can possess
and who is qualified to grow it.

County officials have varied widely in how they approach the issue. Some
work closely with distribution clubs that sprang up after Proposition 215
passed and others take a harder line.

Kamena says she's been unfairly painted as a pot prosecutor. Since she was
sworn in as Marin County district attorney in January, 1999 medical
marijuana cases have made up a tiny percentage of her office caseload - 73
out of more than 30,000 - and most were dismissed or ended in plea bargains.

Kamena says she's declared that her office won't prosecute if individuals
have no more than six mature or 12 immature plants and a half-pound of dry

But opponents say, far from being lenient, Kamena's guidelines follow
federal law, which considers marijuana a contraband and effectively gives
police a license to confiscate it, whether or not they make arrests.

"Every joint, every gram, every leaf, anything they can get their hands on,
it's 'Ha, ha, ha, the DA says this is all against federal law,"' says
Lynette Shaw, director of the Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana and a
leader in the recall campaign. "It's been really mean, and it's hurt the
health of hundreds of people."

The alliance, based in the small town of Fairfax, doesn't just want to get
rid of Kamena. It has a list of five other county prosecutors organizers
want turned out of office.

"This could be the start of something," says Chuck Thomas, spokesman for
the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, which is not involved
in the recall.

Kamena says the problem is that Proposition 215 is "very convoluted and
very complex. It is, in short, a mess. The idea of people who are ill who
can benefit from marijuana - I don't have an issue with that at all."

Dennis Peron, who wrote Proposition 215, disagrees. "The only people who
have any trouble understanding the law is the cops and the district
attorneys. What it is they don't understand is compassion," he said.

In Marin County, a liberal enclave of stunning views and breathtaking home
prices just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, Proposition 215 passed with 73
percent of the vote. Eight other states have authorized the use of medical

The recall petition against Kamena began on a quite different issue; it was
started by parents angry about child-custody cases in Marin courts. That
drive fizzled, but medical marijuana advocates later took up the cause,
getting enough signatures to force the election, which is expected to cost

The wording of the petition remains limited to the child-custody complaint
and Tom Van Zandt, a patent attorney, is running for the job if Kamena is
turned out of office.

Forced to campaign a year ahead of schedule, Kamena has been busily listing
her achievements, including working to improve official response to sexual
assault victims and opening a center where children who may have been
sexually abused can be interviewed in a homelike setting.

"The question is, 'Do I deserve to be fired?' And my answer is, 'Absolutely
not."' Kamena says.

Newshawk: DrugSense
Pubdate: Tue, 10 Apr 2001
Source: Associated Press
Section: Domestic News
Copyright: 2001 Associated Press
Author: Michelle Locke, Associated Press Writer
Note: Links provided with article - Kamena's site, - Marijuana Policy Project: -
Drug Enforcement Administration: