Santa Cruz approves public office to sell medical marijuana

October 25, 2005

Associated Press, San Francisco Chronicle

Santa Cruz officials voted to create a city department to coordinate the dispensing of medical marijuana and vowed to fight federal drug regulators in court to win final approval.

California law has allowed medical marijuana use since voters approved Proposition 215 in 1996.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this summer that the federal government can continue to prosecute users. Santa Cruz leaders say the office will only be established with federal government approval, once the courts resolve the issue.

"We've decided we're going to wait for a court resolution before we even begin to plan how we would implement this ordinance," Mayor Mike Rotkin said Wednesday.

A case is under way in San Jose challenging the federal government's right to restrict states from allowing medicinal marijuana use, he said.

"We will not carry this out and violate federal law so it will take a while to resolve this," Rotkin said.

The city council voted 4-2 on Tuesday to create the Office of Compassionate Use, a five-member advisory board that would coordinate medical marijuana distribution within the city.

Co-sponsored by Rotkin, the ordinance will help the city ensure that qualified patients get the drug as local and federal authorities spar over the legality of medical marijuana, officials said.

Rotkin said that the office would likely contract with pharmacies to provide the drug.

"I don't think anybody's upset with the idea that a pharmacy can sell codeine," he said. "Why wouldn't medical marijuana be distributed the same way?"

Rotkin said he was approached about the idea by the American Civil Liberties Union and a local cooperative, Wo/Men Alliance for Medical Marijuana, a 200-member group that was raided by federal agents in 2002.

"I am excited, and I applaud the city council for its creativity and bold decision to put the issue squarely before the courts in a way that is not reckless," said Allen Hopper, senior staff attorney with the Drug Law Reform Project, an ACLU program.

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