He says he'd issue executive order if elected president.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio became the first Democratic presidential
candidate to endorse the legalization of medical marijuana when he
told The Chronicle on Wednesday it should be available "to any
patient who needs it to alleviate pain and suffering," regardless of
the current federal drug laws.

"Compassion requires that medical marijuana be available" Kucinich
said during a telephone interview after a campaign stop in Cupertino.
"We must have health-care systems which are compassionate . . . so I
support it without reservation."

Federal law enforcement authorities have raided medicinal marijuana
clinics in California arguing that despite the voters endorsement of
the drug for medical purposes, its distribution still violates
federal laws. Federal law lists marijuana as an illegal substance
under the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of its use, U.S.
authorities say.

Ed Rosenthal, an advocate of legalizing marijuana, was arrested and
convicted in federal court of cultivating marijuana, even though
Oakland had made him an official supplier for a city-approved pot
dispensary. He is scheduled to be sentenced next Wednesday and faces
up to five years in federal prison.

Kucinich said that as president, "I'd sign an executive order that
would permit its use."

"I think that we're at a point where we understand that the
maintenance of human health and the alleviation of human suffering
involves a dialogue between the physician and the patient," Kucinich
told The Chronicle. "This is a matter that many people find quite
vexing. I have known people who have had cancer and who have been in
horrible pain. Anything that can alleviate their suffering should be
available."

According to the Medical Marijuana Project, the position outlined by
Kucinich makes him the first major Democratic candidate to endorse
the use of the drug for medical purposes.

"Dennis Kucinich has come a long way since 1998, when he voted for a
congressional resolution condemning state medical marijuana laws, and
we expect many other Democratic contenders to follow suit," said
Robert Kampia, executive director of the Washington-based Marijuana
Policy Project in a statement posted on the organization's Web site.

Kucinich's policy on the issue has the potential to resonate with
voters in California -- and beyond. California voters approved the
use and distribution of marijuana with a doctor's prescription in
1996. Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, Oregon and
Washington have similar laws.

An October 2002 CNN/Time poll showed that 80 percent of Americans
believe that medical marijuana should be legally available.

"This is a natural issue for the Democrats: The Bush administration
is completely out of step with the public, which doesn't want to see
sick people hauled off to jail for taking their medicine," Kampia
said in his statement.

With his statements, Kucinich -- who has made headlines with his
strong anti-war stance and proposals to create a U.S. Department of
Peace -- has stepped out in front of the Democratic presidential
candidates.

"I wouldn't change the (marijuana) law now, but I would set up a
committee to see if pain relief is different with marijuana," North
Carolina Sen. John Edwards told reporters Wednesday after a San
Francisco speech.

Edwards, however, showed little sympathy for people arrested for
behavior that's legal under California law.

"It's the job of the Justice Department to enforce the law as it
presently exists," said Edwards, a lawyer.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a doctor, is another candidate who
has called for a study of the medical use of marijuana. But he
threatened to veto a measure that would have legalized that use in
Vermont.

Kucinich, a former mayor of Cleveland, is seen as a longshot in the
Democratic presidential derby. He is scheduled to appear today at
noon at the San Francisco's federal building and at 7:30 p.m. at the
First Congregational Church in Berkeley.

E-mail the writers at cmarinucci@sfchronicle.com and
jwildermuth@sfchronicle.com.