Calif AG says effect of medical marijuana ruling may be limited

June 05, 2005

Kim Curtis, Associated Press

Oregon stopped issuing medical marijuana cards to sick citizens on Monday, but people could still get pot with a doctor's prescription there and in nine other states despite the Supreme Court ruling, and nobody in law enforcement appeared eager to make headlines arresting ailing citizens.

It remains to be seen whether the Drug Enforcement Administration will crack down on medical marijuana users. The Justice Department wasn't commenting Monday, and in many places, local police rarely enforce marijuana laws, especially when it involves arresting sick people.

'People shouldn't panic. There aren't going to be many changes,' California Attorney General Bill Lockyer said Monday. 'Nothing is different today than it was two days ago, in terms of real world impact.'

In Colorado, where 668 Coloradans hold a certificate allowing them to use and grow marijuana for pain relief under a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2000, federal prosecutors plan to keep their focus on large-scale drug rings. But if investigators come across marijuana in possession of certified state users, they will seize it – just as they have always done, said Jeff Dorschner, a U.S. attorney's spokesman.

In Oregon, state officials said they would temporarily stop issuing medical marijuana cards. 'We want to proceed cautiously until we understand the ramifications of this ruling,' said Grant Higginson, a public health officer who oversees Oregon's medical marijuana program.

Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath said people exercising their rights under that state's law will not face state prosecution. He also said the state has no obligation to assist the federal government in prosecuting people who use marijuana in accordance with the state statute.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger, who has previously supported medical marijuana use, said simply 'it is now up to Congress to provide clarity for not only California, but the other states that already have laws recognizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes.'

Medical marijuana dispensaries have prolifterated, despite a 2001 Supreme Court ruling that rejected the 'medical necessity' defense in marijuana crimes. Nationally, federal arrests of ailing patients who smoke pot have been exceedingly rare, said Paul Armentano, a senior policy analyst with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

About 750,000 people get arrested annually for marijuana crimes, almost all by local police for marijuana possession, but no one tracks how many involve medical marijuana, Armentano said.

Still, the ruling makes Valerie Corral exceedingly nervous. Corral operates a 150-plant pot farm in Santa Cruz County, providing marijuana for free to about 165 seriously ill members. The high court's decision 'leaves us protecting ourselves from a government that should be protecting us,' she said.

It was 'business as usual' at the San Francisco health department, spokeswoman Eileen Shields said. The county issues medical marijuana identification cards, valid for two years, to residents with a doctor's prescription.

The city has at least 43 medical cannabis dispensaries, far more than any other city in California, and makes no effort to collect data that federal authorities could use against them. 'No one wants to create a nice, neat database' of pot users, she said.

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