Medical Pot Users Say They Won't Stop

June 06, 2005

Joe Garofoli, Greg Lucas, Rachel Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle

 Medical marijuana advocates don't often see eye-to-eye with drug prosecutors, but they agreed Monday that the Supreme Court decision allowing the federal government to prosecute cannabis patients is unlikely to lead to an abrupt change in law enforcement.

'The DEA (federal Drug Enforcement Administration) could come in any time before and mess with the patients, and they can do that now,' said Mike Barnes, a Hayward resident who is a leader of the statewide Medical Cannabis Association and has consulted with a cannabis club in Hayward.

'If the DEA is going to raid you, they were going to raid you before this (ruling),' he said. 'The only people who will be intimidated are people who don't understand (the ruling).'

Bay Area medical marijuana advocates -- particularly in San Francisco - - said local law enforcement agencies generally leave them alone.

'Local police are generally very aware, at least in this area, that this is not a big joke,' said Jane Weirick, who managed a medical pot club in San Francisco several years ago and has consulted for three dozen other club owners across California, helping them adapt to local ordinances.

Some federal law enforcement officials agreed that the ruling shouldn't alter reality much for medical marijuana users.

'The reality is, we don't have the time or resources to do anything other than going after large-scale traffickers and large-scale growers,' said McGregor Scott, the U.S. attorney for the state's eastern district in Sacramento. 'We have had cases where there have been claims of medical marijuana, but they involved hundreds and hundreds of plants -- not somebody growing a couple plants in their back yard.'

Other government agencies, however, said the ruling could change the way they deal with medical marijuana issues.

California's Department of Health Services, which was preparing to create a voluntary registry of medical marijuana identification cards, said it would now review the ruling before rolling out the program.

Under a 2004 law, the department was ordered to establish a voluntary registry of ID cards for patients and their caregivers. Counties would issue the ID cards, just as they do now, and forward a copy to the state.

The department was preparing to begin this registry as a pilot project in four counties -- Del Norte, Amador, Mendocino and Trinity -- and then go statewide later this summer.

'We're reviewing the ruling and will decide how to proceed,' department spokeswomen Lea Brooks said.

In San Francisco, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi also will wait before moving forward with a broad range of regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries.

The city began drawing up the regulations after dozens of clubs sprouted up in recent months. The rules would govern how close dispensaries could be to schools and day care centers, require that operators be screened by the Health Department before opening, and ban clubs from residential neighborhoods.

'It's a very big dark cloud that now looms over states like California,'' Mirkarimi said. 'I'm hoping there's some wiggle room that will allow San Francisco to move forward.'

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris said federal authorities are wrong if they think patients will stop using marijuana for medicinal purposes just because of the Supreme Court ruling. If patients can't get the marijuana at dispensaries, she said, they might turn to drug dealers.

'We're exposing the frail and the elderly to unsafe situations,'' said Harris, who said it is her policy not to prosecute people who use or sell marijuana for medicinal purposes.

No one inside the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Clinic said Monday's ruling would keep them from stopping by the 3-year-old South of Market dispensary.

Open every day of the year, the club serves about 150 medical cannabis patients daily, according to the man behind a glass display case bar who gave his name as Arrow.

'You can call me the bud tender,' the white-coated Arrow said as he offered patients their choice of 13 different kinds of marijuana, in addition to such goodies as chocolate-flavored cannabis bars.

'This is helping me,' said 35-year-old Allen Trela, who stops by the South of Market club nearly every day to pick up 'whatever I need' to help him with everything from his back pain to mild depression.

Looking around the bare-walled room at his fellow patients, Trela said, 'There's no reason why the federal government should bother these people. This is something a doctor said is necessary. They are responsible adults.'

After buying a small amount of 'Northern Lights' grade at $300 an ounce, 18-year-old Neal Jackson said he was surprised that 'the government would be able to come in the clubs.'

Jackson, who is taking classes at City College of San Francisco and has held a city-issued medical cannabis card for a year, said he experienced back pain as a result of lifting weights while a Balboa High School student. 'It's a little better now,' he said.



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