Civic Center rally features politicians, joints, pot candy

January 11, 2006

Rachel Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle


With at least tacit support from several local elected officials, operators of a San Francisco medical cannabis dispensary raided by U.S. drug agents last month thumbed their nose at federal authorities and handed out bags of pot-laced confections and marijuana cigarettes in Civic Center Plaza outside City Hall on Wednesday.

During the well-publicized demonstration, the smell of pot wafted through the air, and Rosalyne Montgomery, who says she uses marijuana to treat degenerative joint disease and depression, was given a week's supply.

"This has really helped me deal with my pain,'' said Montgomery, who, like the other recipients of Wednesday's giveaway, has a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana.

Law enforcement authorities made no attempt to stop the distribution to 20 people, which was carried out by Cathy and Steve Smith. They run HopeNet, the South of Market medical marijuana club that was raided Dec. 20 by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Smiths were joined on the plaza by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, co-author of recently adopted local legislation regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

At a press conference beforehand inside City Hall that was coordinated with the marijuana handout, Supervisor Chris Daly spoke in support of the Smiths and railed against federal opposition to medical marijuana. Mayor Gavin Newsom, Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, state Sen. Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, and District Attorney Kamala Harris sent representatives to read statements that reaffirmed their endorsement of medical marijuana.

"Our position remains consistent. We will not prosecute people who use or provide marijuana solely for medicinal purposes,'' said the prepared statement by Harris. "As a community, we do not want to jeopardize the safety of sick people by forcing them to get medicine they need through dangerous means. Caretakers and providers who abide by the law deserve no less protection.''

The law referred to is California Proposition 215, a measure backed by state voters in 1996 that legalized the growing and use of cannabis for medical purposes. Such activities, however, remain illegal under federal law. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last summer that the federal government does not have to recognize state or local marijuana laws.

In response to Wednesday's demonstration and pot giveaway, Javier F. Pena, the special agent in charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration's regional office in San Francisco, said participants were subject to federal prosecution.

"Anyone, whether a member of a political body or a private citizen who engages in illegal distribution or trafficking of drugs could be subject to federal criminal penalties. ... Currently,'' he said, "it is illegal under federal law to distribute marijuana for any purpose.''

The Smiths said they didn't know yet whether they would be charged and prosecuted by federal authorities in response to last month's bust. Agents raided their home and confiscated 122 marijuana plants, financial records and equipment needed to grow the plants. Authorities also seized plants at a nearby warehouse operated by the Smiths.

Meanwhile, the dispensary, which charges clients on a sliding scale basis based on financial need, is back in business.

"Basically,'' said Cathy Smith, "we're going to start all over again, and they're going to have to put us behind bars to make us stop.'

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