Medical pot advocates speak out

February 06, 2006

Jose Carvajal, North County Times

Medical marijuana advocates Tuesday continued to voice their opposition to a proposal by Supervisor Jeff Stone that would have the county join San Diego and San Bernardino counties in challenging the state's 9-year-old "Compassionate Use Act."Stone was not swayed.

A handful of activists addressed the county supervisors Tuesday to denounce a lawsuit filed by San Diego County late last month in an attempt to overturn the voter-approved medical marijuana law ---- also known as Proposition 215. San Diego County officials say it flouts federal laws that make all marijuana use illegal.

It didn't take San Bernardino County officials long to decide they wanted to follow suit, and it is believed both lawsuits will be combined. Riverside County, if it ultimately decides to take legal action, would join the San Diego County filing.

The lawsuit's contention doesn't jibe with the medical marijuana advocates, who staged a modest rally outside the County Administrative Center after they finished addressing the supervisors Tuesday.

"Prop. 215 is the voters' will, and to try to overturn that is hypocrisy," Amanda Brazel, a Los Angeles field coordinator for the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, told the board. "When we are sending our men and women overseas to fight for democracy abroad and we don't uphold it at home, that is blasphemy."

Francisco Hernandez, another member of Americans for Safe Access, said the federal government itself hasn't attempted to challenge the law. He also noted that San Diego County officials pulled the suit out of federal court last week in an effort to avoid the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ---- a court they say is more friendly to medical marijuana advocates ---- and filed it instead in San Diego Superior Court.

"Already, they are seeing the folly of their attempts and I urge the board here not to join the San Diego lawsuit," he said.

Stone, a pharmacist, had said last week that he planned to discuss joining the suit with fellow board members during a closed session at the Tuesday meeting. But the item was not placed on the agenda, nor was there an announcement when supervisors reconvened after closed session Tuesday to indicate that any action had been taken on the issue.

Verne Lauritzen, Stone's chief of staff, said later in the day that his boss still plans to pursue joining the suit. Lauritzen said Stone is waiting for the dust to settle in the wake of San Diego refiling its suit before proceeding.

"The plan now is to wait for the fallout of that and reassess where we are," Lauritzen said.

Stone, for his part, continued to make his case at Tuesday's meeting that the state law contradicts federal statutes.

As medical marijuana advocate Dege Coutee addressed the board, Stone interjected that the federal government classifies marijuana in the same group of harmful drugs in which it classifies heroin.

"Heroin is basically, in the eyes of the federal government, in the same classification as cannabis," he said.

Though Coutee replied that marijuana has been proven to be less dangerous than heroin and that the two shouldn't be compared, Stone pressed on.

"If the citizens of this state go to the ballot and say that they believe heroin should be bought at a heroin dispensary, is your organization going to stand behind that?" he asked Coutee.

"No, we're here to support medical marijuana," she replied.

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