Lakiesha McGhee, Oakland Tribune,
BERKELEY- Erik Levy said he's been arrested twice for using marijuana for medicinal purposes, and he's willing to give up his freedom again to protect the rights of other patients whose access to the drug is being threatened. Levy and hundreds of activists across the state met over the weekend to prepare for the national 'day of direct action' scheduled for Thursday. On that day, more than a thousand advocates for medical marijuana are planning to picket, rally and risk arrest in 54 U.S.
cities to protest what they refer to as the Drug Enforcement Agency's 'attempt to recriminalize medical cannabis.' Bay Area activists are planning to protest at the Oakland and San Francisco federal buildings at noon. 'My mother thinks I'm a criminal because I use this stuff, and that really upsets me.' said Levy, 41, a founding member of the Lamps League of American Marijuana Patients and Supporters in San Francisco. He uses the drug to treat a chronic form of depression he was diagnosed with. The small group who gathered Sunday were schooled on how to participate in an effective nonviolent action - whether their role is passing out leaflets or resisting arrest during a sit-in. They brainstormed on creative ways to catch the eye of DEA officials and the media for Thursday's demonstration. Some ideas included planting marijuana gardens in front of protest sites, staging a mock funeral and flooding federal communication lines with faxes and telephone calls listing their demands. 'We ask ourselves, how much disruption is too much? But I feel the DEA is making me do this, ' said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access in Berkeley. 'We need the federal government to enforce the law. We know that medical marijuana works and it's not right that at any moment the DEA can come in and bust patients who use it.' Proposition 215, passed by 56 percent of California voters in 1996, protects seriously and terminally ill patients from criminal penalties for using marijuana. But about a year after the law was passed, owners of cannabis centers found themselves caught in lawsuits brought by federal and state law enforcement officials, or defending themselves from criminal charges related to their operations. Organizers said the nationwide action is in direct response to DEA raids on eight medical marijuana dispensaries in California that may be forced to close their doors after court proceedings concluded on or after June 6. The group claims that Attorney General John Ashcroft and DEA officials embarked on a campaign last fall to close down medical marijuana cooperatives operating within the constraints of the law. The Cannabis Action Network is demanding: (1) that President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft declare a moratorium on 'the federal anti-medical marijuana campaign' and grant states the right to choose and govern medical marijuana laws; (2) that Bush declare support of the States Rights to Medical Marijuana Act introduced in the House last year; (3) that all prosecutions against medical marijuana patients, growers and dispensaries stop. Dr. Mike Alcalay, medical director of the Oakland Cannabis Buyer Cooperative, which is temporarily barred from distributing medical marijuana due to a Supreme Court decision last year, said the government is ignoring all the information about medicinal marijuana. 'It's one of the safest drugs out there. No one dies of an overdose,' said Alcalay, who uses marijuana to treat his illness, AIDS. 'This has nothing to do with science, it's all about politics.'