Group gives out free medical marijuana in S.F.

January 11, 2006

Josh Richman, The Daily Review (CA)

In a show of defiance against federal drug authorities, operators of a recently raided medical marijuana collective doled out marijuana and cannabis-laced sweets at midday Wednesday outside City Hall.

Steve and Cathy Smith stood beneath a pair of white tarps pitched in City Center Plaza as dozens of patients lined up to receive the small red paper bags filled with cannabis products. Only 20 patients of the Smiths' HopeNet collective had preregistered, and only they received the bags.

Earlier, local officials and state lawmakers' aides had gathered inside City Hall to voice outrage over the Drug Enforcement Administration's Dec. 20 raid of the Smiths' San Francisco home, the nearby HopeNet club and a Sonoma County site.

Federal agents seized almost 340 marijuana plants, various cannabis products and about $50,000 cash, but no charges have been filed against the Smiths or anyone else connected to HopeNet.

San Francisco Supervisors Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi praised the Smiths for working with the city to create a safe, well-regulated cannabis collective aiding hundreds of patients, including many who are indigent. An aide said Mayor Gavin Newsom is disappointed the federal government continues to intrude on local and state regulation of medical marijuana.

Anna Damiani, an aide to Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, read a statement from the lawmaker in which he decried the DEA's "zeal to harass patients and providers" as being "abusive and unconscionable" as well as a waste of resources that would be better deployed against real public-safety threats.

Similar statements from state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, and San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris also were read aloud.

Steph Sherer, executive director of Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, said DEA officials — after last June's U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the federal marijuana ban — had claimed the agency would not make a priority of targeting patients.

"We're here to let America know they're lying," she said, announcing a postcard-petition drive urging U.S. Attorney Kevin Ryan not to file charges against the Smiths.

The Smiths thanked local officials and the community for what they described as an outpouring of support since the federal raid. Cathy Smith said other Bay Area providers have helped replenish some of HopeNet's cannabis supply.

"Basically, we're going to have to start all over again," she said. "They're going to have to put us behind bars to make us stop."

Bruce Mirken, communications director for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project, said federal raids like that of HopeNet should be seen as "the behavior of a caged, cornered animal lashing out because it knows it's on the losing end of history."

He cited polls showing strong public support for medical use of marijuana, and said federal refusal to reclassify the drug has no basis in science or common sense.

"The debate is over," he said. "It's not a question of if; it's a question of when."

Rhode Island last week became the 11th state to legalize medical marijuana, and the first state to enact such a law since last June's Supreme Court ruling.



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